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Normalising external narratives in Palestine’s spaces for education

Students in a school in Gaza of the UNRWA at the beginning of the new academic year.
Students in a school in Gaza of the UNRWA at the beginning of the new academic year

In collaboration with the Palestinian Ministry of Education, the EU launched a competition across schools in Gaza and the occupied West Bank called “Know Europe”. The aim, according to EU Deputy Representative Tomas Niklasson, is “to introduce ourselves again to students of Palestine: introduce our values, culture, history and identity” and affirm the bloc’s purported commitment to supporting Palestinians.

This educational endeavour is tantamount to forcing gratitude for symbolic recognition, decades after colonial conquest and entrenchment. Yet the reasoning behind the competition, according to the press release, is that “the European Union has a lot in common with Palestine and the region”. Palestinians know there is no comparison, yet this misconception is now being normalised through education, despite the obvious differences between a bloc of countries and Palestine’s disappearance.

Is it for educational purposes that the EU is introducing a sliver of normalised and depoliticised education for Palestinians? Or is the aim to promote the international agenda of obstructing the colonised population’s right to learn of the international community, in this case Europe, through its own experience?

The competition is not proof of Europe’s support for Palestine – it is a publicity stunt for the benefit of the EU itself that simply requires Palestinian students as participants. To hold this competition at at time when, more than ever, Palestinians require support for their own narratives to be disseminated internationally shows that international exploitation of Palestine and Palestinians knows no bounds. In doing so, the colonised population is coerced into a type of learning that promotes a purportedly outward-looking framework, while Palestinians are contending with two violations which the EU has actively ignored: restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly in Gaza where this right has been annihilated, and the Palestinian Right of Return.

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Furthermore, why does the EU assume that its founding principles are worthy of dissemination? The competition is labelled “interactive,” yet the interaction follows the traditional formula of a colonised population participating in a decided agenda. There is no space for Palestinian narratives, yet it is possible to find space for the EU to share its identity with a population that finds its identity bludgeoned by the international community. Will the imparted values include the EU’s insistence on the two-state framework, its support of the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s purported right to defend itself?

Surely there is enough awareness that, at an international level, the colonial depiction of Palestine doesn’t aid Palestinian rights and self-determination. Given the leverage that the EU has over Palestine in terms of politics and diplomacy, this competition will make a spectacle out of participation and Palestinians will gain nothing in terms of their rights.

For an entity that claims to be supportive of the Palestinians, the competition only shows the bloc promoting its self-interests and appeasement of Israel. The EU would have served a better purpose if it had encouraged the celebration of Palestinian history, memory and narratives. A population that has excelled in education, despite colonial violence and appropriation, deserves more recognition than for its youth to participate in a scheme which continues to deflect focus away from the realities of Palestinian displacement and loss of territory.  The disappearance of Palestine necessitates more attention than the EU and its omniscient presence.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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