Palestinian students who study at Israeli universities are confronted by racist assaults from the day they step foot on university campuses in an attempt to discourage them or even drive them away.
The myriad forms of suffering experienced by the few Arab students accepted into Israeli universities range from economic to social, cultural, and religious oppression.
Haitham Mahamid, a student at Al-Quds University, confirmed that he suffers from continuous discrimination at his university. His problems began from the very start when he had to pay the full tuition without any financial assistance, since “as an Arab student, I do not qualify for scholarships or grants from the Council for Higher Education to help pay the fees.”
Since entering university, Mahamid, a third-year student majoring in psychology and management, has experienced “poor treatment and discrimination by the university administration and some lecturers compared to my Israeli colleagues.”
He also added that, “There are courses given at the psychology clinic that I, as an Arab student, am not allowed to take, whereas there are no restrictions for Jewish students, and naturally, this affects my study. In addition to this, we are not treated well by the university administration and are subject to many conditions, placement tests, etc.”
Moreover, Mahamid stressed that a number of lecturers treat Arab students poorly, and that their racism is obvious in they way that they deal with these students. He noted that, “This is reflected in the lecturer’s evaluation of us as Arab students in terms of our marks and assessments.”
Arab students are not covered
Arab students are universally subjected to discrimination regarding university policies concerning tuition and scholarships.
Mahamid explained that the scholarships and grants offered by the Council for Higher Education do not cover Arab students because they have set conditions that only apply to Jewish students. Therefore, Arab students are forced to pay their full tuitions without any help.
He himself pays over NIS 28,000 every semester in fees. This amount is divided into NIS 11,000 for tuition and NIS 17,000 for housing, stressing that housing is one of his biggest problems due to high rents.
Ayman Asali, a medical student at Tel Aviv University says that, “the first problem I faced was during the interviews for the Arab students, and ever since I started studying here, I have had psychological problems because being an Arab here makes me feel like I am a stranger.”
He adds, “Everywhere I go on campus, I face racism. We face this on a daily basis, even outside the university, but the students from the Tel Aviv area better able to deal and adapt with this than the students from Jerusalem or Beer El-Sabea.”
According to Asali, Arab students also face the challenges of civil service and volunteering for the occupation army, which the university sets as a condition to receive scholarships or instalment payments. However, none of the Arab students meet these requirements.
“Therefore, we as Arab students are not covered by any scholarships, so I pay about NIS 14,000 annually in tuition alone, in addition to NIS 15,500 for housing. This doesn’t even include personal expenses,” he added.
Recruitment and poor treatment
Fayyad Zaki, Head of the Iqra Institute for Higher Education in the occupied territories, confirmed that the problems for Arab students start even before they begin their studies, as there are unequal acceptance requirements for Arab and Israeli students.
He explains that Israeli universities set the acceptance requirements in order to suit Jewish students. For example, universities require students to be over 21 years of age, which is the age Israeli students reach when they complete their military service in the army.
Zaki also adds, “Arab students feel that they have no rights in comparison to Jewish students, and the right to scholarships is the main right violated. This is due to the fact that the scholarship funds require students to have served in the military and require them to live in certain areas, thus excluding Arab students.”
This is on top of problems communicating with racist lecturers and the university’s failure to accommodate Arab students in terms of religious holidays. Zaki noted that the university refuses to give Arab students time off for their official holidays such as Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha, etc.
There are several faculties within Israeli universities that are considered prestigious, and they often limit the presence of Arabs in them, such as the various schools for engineering. Moreover, Arab students are prohibited from completing their Master’s degree in such areas.
Zaki also notes that the acceptance rate for Arab students in Israeli universities as of 2005 was only 9.8 per cent, and only 5 per cent of the total applicants for master’s degrees. Israeli Arabs comprise around 20 per cent of the Israeli population. Including Palestinians in the occupied territories, Arabs comprise almost half of the total population.
The discrimination against Arab students also affects campus life, as the Arab bloc is not recognised as an independent group, and therefore is prohibited from holding any national, religious, etc. events or activities on campus.
He explained that while Israeli students are accommodated, even in terms of missing exams, if an Arab student is ever absent from an exam, no excuses are accepted, and they automatically fail the exam. However, a Jewish student has the option of resitting the exam.
Professors often treat the Arab students with arrogance, making direct communication very difficult. This also impacts the students’ ambitions, marks, as well as how far they develop and progress in their studies.
Furthermore, Arab students face a fierce campaign against them in regards to finding suitable housing. Zaki explained that there is a movements against renting out accommodations to Arab students inside Tel Aviv, especially recently.
Still, the Director of Educational Guidance at the Iqra Institute for Higher Education, Basel Agbaria, says that there are Arab students in many Israeli universities, most notably Tel Aviv University, with around 1,000 Arab students, and Al-Quds University, with over 1,000 students.
He adds that there are about 600 Arab students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 500 in Bar-Ilan University, 1200 at the Israeli Institute of Technology in Haifa, and 5,000-6,000 students at the Open University.
However he stresses that many Arab students are forced to leave university before completing their studies, around 20 per cent. Moreover, 32 per cent change their majors due to difficult requirements.
In a report by the Hirak Centre for Advancement of Higher Education in Arab Society, the centre lists 14 obstacles faced by Arab students in Israeli universities that hinder their educational path.
The report notes that the most prominent obstacle is that most Israeli universities are lowering the chances of accepting Palestinian students in Palestine, while others place insurmountable obstacles in their path after they are accepted.
The centre also says that the curriculum in most Arab schools encourages neither critical thinking nor analytical skills, and therefore only 23 per cent of those graduating from Arab schools meet the acceptance standards set by Israeli universities. This is compared to 47 per cent of Jewish school graduates.
Furthermore, the centre notes that only 12 per cent of Palestinian students complete their studies within the standard timeframe. In addition to this, half of Palestinian families and a third of Palestinian children live under the poverty line, and thus many Arab children leave school due to difficult economic situations.