Visiting Palestine: interview with Jean Fitzpatrick

Jean is a committee member of the British Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network, a network of groups with a direct connection to people and places in Palestine, as well as Friends of Nablus and Surrounding Areas.

Jean’s recent trip to Palestine

I go every year to Nablus and when I go I like to visit other places. I taught for a semester at An Najah University in 2011, which I enjoyed very much indeed, so when I go back I see old friends, meet new students and I also see people in the village of Sabastiya. I go to Sabastiya every year, which is where my own group Hanwell Friends of Sabastiya has a link, and I stay in the wonderful Al Kayed Palace Guest House.

I had never visited Birzeit University before, so I was also keen to do that this time around. As it was a Saturday afternoon there weren’t many students around, but it’s a stunning campus and I was very impressed.

The situation for students in Palestine

I met with Sundos Hammad, the co-ordinator of the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University, and two members of staff on advisory committee. They talked about the impact of the occupation on education at all levels - from the youngest child up to university students and postgraduates.

I was already familiar with issues like getting to campus, particularly during the second intifada, but the thing that struck me most about the situation today is how very difficult it is to get books and resources at university level.

Israel does censor. The universities send out a list of books they want, but the Israeli authorities will say some books are forbidden, that they can’t have them. Obtaining materials for any science work is also extremely difficult as chemicals aren’t allowed in.

Things are curtailed in so many ways. Campaigning about education is a really good way to connect with people outside Palestine and get them to realise the immense impact of the occupation. First, you ask if people believe if everyone has a right to education.  Then you ask if they know that Palestinian rights are curtailed in all these different ways. Its a good way to approach the issue.

I was very impressed by the two-week tour of the United States the Right to Education Campaign had just come back from. It was great to hear their tour had been paid for by American students. So many people are very supportive, in so many ways - as opposed to our governments.

Campaigning for the right to education

It always amazes me how determined people are to get an education. People in Palestine don’t just go the extra mile, but miles and miles - getting up so very early to spend hours to get to lessons. It makes me feel very humble.

People here need to know what the injustices are. We need to get the message out. Really it’s about putting pressure on the Israeli government and personally I’m a supporter of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions.

I think the best thing we can do is to go and visit, get to know people in Palestine and put sanctions in place on Israel until it complies with international law. Every time I go to Palestine, everyone says how important it is for people to come from abroad. And every time I go, I realise how important it is - there’s simply no substitute.

We need to diffuse the impression that it’s unsafe. I’ve always felt absolutely safe and so welcome. People need to know it is possible to go, how easy it is to travel around and how helpful people are, even if you’re on your own. We should be supporting Palestinian tourism.

Once you go to Palestine, you want to go again - it’s in your heart and your blood stream.