Tuesday, 1 November 2011

LSE lectures broadcast to Gaza

Nicola Alexander
(published in the LSE SU weekly newspaper, The Beaver)

The LSE Palestine Society has extended it’s academic programme with the Islamic University of Gaza to include lectures by LSE Professors. Academics in the Departments of International Relations, Law and History have agreed to participate in the scheme by delivering lectures via online video conferencing.

The decision to twin the LSE Students’ Union with the Islamic University of Gaza was passed at the Union General Meeting (UGM) on 26th November 2009, in order to “show solidarity with the students there who have had their campus bombed and their colleagues killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces.” Proposer of the motion, Samer Araabi, stated that the twinning was in “no way a sign of support for Hamas” but to support the people of Gaza and their right to education. Prior to this, the Students’ Union was twinned with the An-Najah National University in the Middle East since January 2007, but this expired in November 2009.

The academic programme was first established as part of the Palestine Society’s “Right to Education” campaign, launched in 2010, under which the UGM motion was also launched. Originally the programme just partnered LSE students with their counterparts at the Islamic University of Gaza in a mentoring initiative. Last year, LSE students partnered with “pen-pals” at the Middle-Eastern university using Skype and e-mail. However, the Palestinian Society has decided to invite academic involvement to provide better support for the students there.

Zach Sammour, last year’s President of the Palestine Society and main organiser of the academic programme, said that the partnership between the Students’ Union and the Islamic University of Gaza “was primarily intended to serve as a solidarity gesture between the students of the LSE and our counterparts at IUG. Subsequently, we have attempted to utilise the twinning to provide as much academic and social support to the students at the IUG as possible".

LSE Professors will be broadcasting their lectures live to an audience of students and academics in Gaza via video conferencing. This will allow the students there to engage directly with the Professors by asking questions. The syllabus for the lectures has not yet been confirmed by the academic staff.

Sammour commented: “The supporting materials will either be written by the lecturers themselves or sourced from open-access online libraries, and as such we do not anticipate there being any issues relating to infringements of intellectual property.” It is hoped that this term will focus on International Relations with two weeks of lectures given by Marco Pinfari, LSE fellow in International Relations. Lent term will focus on History and Law. Professor Gearty, who is involved in the Law lecturing for the programme said he is excited to be part of the project, commenting; “It is particularly great when an opportunity to engage in this way comes from an initiative launched by the student body itself. Education is vital in all societies but particularly those in which, for whatever reason, opportunity to learn is so restricted.”

The Palestine Society’s programme marks a significant milestone in international academic relations with students in Gaza. Sammour said, “owing to the intense restrictions on the freedom of movement inside Gaza, social partnerships such as student or academic exchanges are almost impossible to organise. “As such, the work we carry out is primarily geared towards providing academic support and services online, though we have also organised social initiatives with students at IUG, such as online video conferences and a ‘pen-friend’ programme last year where LSE students were paired with IUG students via Skype and e-mail.” he added.

The 2009 motion to twin the LSE with the Islamic University of Gaza faced large opposition from many members of the Israeli and Jewish Societies at the time, who launched a “Hummus not Hamas” campaign to create awareness of their perceived problems with the twinning. The Opposers of the motion alleged that Hamas had built the university, many prominent Hamas members had been educated at the University and that bombs and weaponry were built and stored in the basement of the establishment.

Aimee Riese, President of the Israel Society commented: “Although we do not agree about a formal twinning of the LSE with IUG, because of its alleged links with Hamas, we are of course committed to the principles of academic freedom. We support the sharing of academic ideas to promote dialogue, understanding and peace- values which the Israel Society stands for.”

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