Next week the 2016 Right to Education (R2E) tour will arrive in the United States. During the first two weeks in April, students from universities across Palestine will be speaking at American university campuses about their experiences studying under Israeli occupation and the impact of colonialism on their education; the theme of this year’s Right to Education tour. The R2E tour is coordinated by both the R2E Campaign at Birzeit University and members of the Steering committee of National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP).
R2E has successfully exposed American audiences to Palestinian students, the broad issues they face under occupation, and highlighted Israel’s systematic obstruction of Palestinian education. R2E continues its aim of creating links between student movements in the US and Palestine, building institutional relationships between universities, and exchanging information between Palestinians and social movements (e.g. indigenous, migrant, and black struggles).
The R2E tour in fall 2014, themed “Building Unity, Breaking Walls”, was the first of its kind, and began in Ferguson, St. Louis. The tour commenced when Birzeit University students met with local organizers in the new Black movements for Mike Brown and VonDerrit Myers, Jr. The students attended a vigil and demonstration with community members during what was perhaps their most memorable night throughout the tour. “As a Palestinian I see people every day getting killed and all my rights are violated. I don’t have any rights basically,” said Shatha Hammad, one of the students who spoke at universities throughout California and the Southwest. “For a moment there I got used to it. But at the vigil when I saw everything and heard the people talk, something woke up inside me and said ‘you suffer from that and these people suffer from that, so you better stand next to each other and do something.’”
The 2014 tour not only highlighted the intersectionality between Black and Palestinian struggles, but Palestinian students and organizers reached the understanding that Black-Palestinian solidarity is a praxis to be adopted in a joint liberation struggle against interconnected forms of racial supremacy, state violence, and Empire. Indeed, as Birzeit student Emad Nazzal put it: “Palestinian people and the black community – we share the same issues. Those people who are oppressed we stand together must fight together. Our liberation–Palestinian liberation–only starts with black people’s liberation, so we must stand together and fight for justice. No justice, no peace–that’s the saying right?” This topic of joint struggle resonated throughout the 2014 tour, in universities across the Northeastern, Western, Midwestern, and Southern regions of the US, and will carry on for the Spring tour.
The R2E campaign at Birzeit and NSJP members have organized for 14 Palestinian students from universities such as Al Najah University, Al Quds University, Bethlehem University, and the Islamic University of Gaza – as well as Birzeit – to participate in this year’s tour. The students will arrive for orientation in Chicago, Illinois before traveling to universities and other locations to meet with grassroots organizers such as BYP100 – New Orleans, Hands Up United, and Dream Defenders.
The R2E organizers are putting a spotlight on two locations the tour will be arriving in this year: The University of Hawaii and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Both of these locations reminisce the long history of US settler-colonization and their inclusion in the tour aims to accentuate the continuing struggle of both the Kanaka Maoli and Oglala Sioux indigenous peoples. As indigenous people living under settler-colonial states, Palestinians and Native Americans and Hawaiians are experiencing and struggling against illegal occupation, dispossession, and erasure. The Right to Education is also the right to defend your people’s narrative of struggle against the backdrop of the dominant colonial discourse, that declares a story of “victory” as opposed to ethnic cleansing; a formula all too familiar with indigenous people around the world.
With about 50 stops at universities and grassroots locations throughout the US, from Hawaii to Pine Ridge, from Palestine to the United States, this is an exciting year for the R2E tour.