Universities are building bridges between Brazil and Palestine with the establishment of an online course from 9 March to 1 June involving professors from both countries. The course is being organised by Brazil's University of Sao Paulo (USP), the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and the University of Brasília (UNB) in partnership with Palestine's Birzeit University and Al-Quds University.
The classes will be held once a week in English and topics covered will include Palestinian history, the ongoing Nakba, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the issue of Gaza. Following the first five classes, the rest will discuss the history of Palestinian migration to Brazil, Arab culture in Brazil, the steadfastness and resilience of the small rural producers, and the challenges and difficulties of addressing social issues that have parallels with the reality in Brazil.
Registration opens on February 27. The twelve-class course will be held once a week from March 9 to June 1, featuring different professors from Brazil and Palestine. The course is free of charge and will be taught in English.#palestine #onlinecoursehttps://t.co/dhYGkaPDdQ
— ANBA (@ANBABrasilArabe) February 7, 2023
According to Arlene Elizabeth Clemesha, Professor of Arab History at the University of Sao Paulo, the idea for the course arose after an academic mission to Palestine last year. She was very impressed by the size, scope and quality of many Palestinian universities, as well as the education efforts of young Palestinians despite the difficult circumstances and restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation of their land.
"I had been in close contact since 2021 with Ambassador Alessandro Candeas, the Brazilian representative to Palestine, who was eager to increase academic exchanges between Brazil and Palestine," explained Prof. Clemesha. "Now we have signed an exchange and mobility agreement with one of the universities, and have decided to work towards practical measures and exchange initiatives."
Back in Brazil after her visit to Palestine, she felt that Israel should not be able to transform Palestine into a prison as its policies suggest it is doing. Moreover, that it would not be productive to sign several academic cooperation agreements between USP and Palestinian universities if Israel approves more and more laws and imposed unlawful measures to impede academic exchanges with the occupied West Bank. Even now, it limits the number of people who can spend time in the occupied Palestinian territories as Visiting Professors and denies foreign students visas to be able to study there as part of academic exchanges and mobility. There are, she pointed out, all sorts of other oppressive measures that should never be accepted in a democracy.
Clemesha is the new course´s coordinator. Brazilian universities, she told me, have existing academic agreements with Palestinian universities, but the Israeli restrictions have prevented any practical steps being implemented. "Restrictive Israeli laws and measures are aimed specifically at Palestinian academic exchanges, including the lack of visas and permits, making it difficult for Brazilian students to go to Palestine."
That is why academics in Brazil and their counterparts in Palestine are launching this free, online course. It is the first step in what they hope will become courses for joint Masters degrees and PhDs, joint articles and research, field trips and so on. "We also collaborated with the Brazilian Embassy in Palestine, asking staff to offer support for online Portuguese courses for Palestinians," noted Prof. Clemesha. She believes that online platforms can play an important role in facing such challenges and supporting the dissemination of Palestinian culture and identity. "Many institutions and initiatives upload schemes of work and lesson plans for teaching about Palestine, refugees and Palestinian history."
Brazil´s academics realise that the new course represents an important addition to the already good relationship between Brazilians and Palestinians. Beyond this course, their desire is to present and represent multiple cultures in an authentic way and highlight ways and means for contacts, travel, the building of bridges and extending human-level communication between different cultures.
"The distinct histories, social and religious compositions and current conditions that characterise Brazil and Palestine do not obscure the sentiments about identity that stem frequently from cultural and academic encounters," said Clemesha. "There is a lot of interest in Brazil about Palestinian history, which is why it is important to throw the spotlight on it."
In closing, she gave details of the course due to start next month. "It will reflect on the possible sources of the closeness and similarities in texts, novels, stories and social issues in Brazil and Palestine. The permanence of small rural producers on the land, for example, urban migrations and the dynamics of forced displacement. Each topic will be taught by a different professor in his or her field of research."
Saberes tradicionais conquistam lugar institucional. Reunião aberta da Superintendência de Saberes Tradicionais com a comunidade acadêmica marca o início das atividades oficiais do grupo. Saiba mais: https://t.co/M2qGgyvtvP #ufrj #saberestradicionais pic.twitter.com/LwsUnJBCw2
— UFRJ (@ufrj) February 10, 2023
With Israel and its military occupation seeking to dominate the narrative through textbooks and curriculums which ignore the indigenous people of Palestine, online study, research and learning is an essential way forward. University courses like this will boost the morale of young Palestinians; increase the international exposure of Palestinian universities and academics; and raise awareness about the Palestinian cause. It should be applauded and celebrated.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.