Dr. Rami Salameh is an assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University. He completed his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology from the Graduate Institute Geneva in 2018 and is this year’s Fobzu-Oxford University Middle East Centre Writing Residency recipient.  He spoke to Fobzu about his research interests, the challenges facing Palestinian higher education today and the value of initiatives such as the Fobzu-Oxford Writing Residency.

  • Can you tell us about what you teach at Birzeit and your current research interests? 

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University. I am also a Chairperson and Director of the MA Programme in Contemporary Art. In addition, along with a group of my colleagues, I have been working on developing a new MA programme in Critical Cultural Studies which will be launched this September 2023.  My work considers the lived reality of Palestinians under settler colonialism and focuses on examining Palestine contextually as part of the Global South and more broadly as part of the world.

Since finishing my PHD in 2018, I started working on a set of new research projects to understand lived experiences in Palestine and beyond. There are some gaps in the literature about Palestine; …what seems to be absent is a focus on how Palestinians are living within that context. There is an absence of literature focusing on lived experiences and bodily experiences. For example, how do we navigate our bodies at checkpoints? My work focuses on how we experience our bodies in settler colonial contexts, how we process feelings of anger, pain and how we dream.

One research interest of mine concerns regulatory terminologies and the language Palestinians use in describe their experiences. This informs how power, settler colonialism, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and neo liberal policies infiltrate people’s perceptions and how new terms come to occupy the Palestinian narrative… I am also conducting some cross sectoral research across the West Bank. I am working with farmers, manual labourers, business employees and others. This piece of research focuses on Palestinians’ dreams. What does it mean to dream as a colonised subject? I am collecting different accounts from political prisoners, students and workers  and in doing so I am trying to understand how living in a colonial context affects our dreams and the relationship between our conscious reality and the subconscious. Many Palestinian prisoners dream of meeting loved ones, friends and relatives outside of prison. This kind of dream cannot exist without the condition of imprisonment. These are the key themes of my work at the moment.

  • You have recently written about the impact of colonialism on Palestinian higher education. Could you tell us about that and the key challenges facing Palestinian academics and students today? 

It is not easy to be a student or a lecturer in Palestine. The challenges facing Palestinian academics and students are not limited to issues surrounding freedom of expression, academic freedom and the risk of being targeted by Israel for expressing anticolonial views. Lecturers in Palestine also live with the reality that students who are politically active against colonialism and oppression might be detained, imprisoned or even martyred. The lives of professors and academics in Palestine cannot be separated from the educational process and political reality of being Palestinian. These two aspects of Palestinian life are intrinsically intertwined. You cannot present knowledge to students as something irrelevant to their experience… This can sometimes be a burden, but there is no escaping it. To us, knowledge is resistance, not power.

Another important issue to raise here concerns Israeli restrictions placed on the development and growth of Palestinian higher education. We can’t host students or professors from outside Palestine, which limits the number of students and academics who are able to access Palestinian universities. There are also restrictions placed on subjects taught at Palestinian universities. Birzeit University is unique in that it has a long history and a deep-seated sense of Palestinian identity so that it addresses questions of what it really means to be Palestinian. Birzeit has also historically been part of the national resistance movement and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination. Birzeit has therefore been subject to repeated targeting by the Israeli occupation, precisely because it remains an independent institution. Foreign students are often not allowed to attend lectures or events at Birzeit and international academics attempting to take part in studying or teaching a course at Birzeit are often questioned by the Israeli authorities and denied entry to the country. An obvious example being Noam Chomsky, who was denied entry when he attempted to visit Birzeit.

Higher education is an essential part of the Palestinian identity and its development has been central to the struggle against the occupation since the establishment of higher education institutions like Birzeit. However, since the Oslo accords in 1993, Palestinians and academics have been facing a different set of challenges. Education has become more market oriented than concerned with a national struggle for freedom. We have a high number of private universities now and the underlying ethos is increasingly, ‘knowledge is knowledge’.  The challenges imposed on Palestinian higher education institutions are severely limiting the ability to empower students and academics through education.

  • The Fobzu-Oxford University MEC Writing Residency aims to support Palestinian academic development. Why did you decide to apply and what benefit do you hope to gain from your visit?

Palestinian academia is unique in that it is defined by an inability to take time to reflect on the events around you. Every day something new happens that you have to address or process. I needed a break and some time to disconnect from academia in Palestine because it is very draining. This residency offers me time to reflect on my work and to physically distance myself from the difficult reality in Palestine. Teaching at Birzeit also occupies a great deal of time and as a result, there is not enough time to write. This residency is an opportunity for me and others to focus on the research and produce.

Facilitating an exchange of ideas and enabling academics from Palestine to meet colleagues elsewhere is exceptionally valuable. Academics should also come to experience Palestine. No words can ever describe the complex reality there. You can get a sense from a book or a picture but really you need to experience it yourself. Visiting Palestine allows us to make sense of what we are reading and writing about it and enables us to connect the dots.

  • What will you spend your time as the Fobzu-Oxford University MEC Writer in Residence writing about?

I am focusing on the two projects I mentioned at the beginning of this interview. I hope to be able to work with others and meet colleagues and academics who share some of my interests. I will be visiting the Middle East Centre archive at Oxford University and focusing on my writing. I look forward to building some connections with academics here, exchanging ideas and being able to continue working on my research.



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