Most Palestinian universities are underfunded, but Hebron University is extreme in its needs. Compared to other institutions in Palestine, there are few buildings named for wealthy donors.
Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement mean that students rarely enroll in a university outside the vicinity where they were raised. Most of Birzeit University’s student body comes from the Ramallah area; the students from Nablus and Qalqilya attend al-Najah University. Around Hebron, students go to Hebron University or the other school in town, Polytechnic University. The restrictions on movement mean that Palestinian campuses develop regional cultures; it is difficult for young Palestinians to meet their peers from other parts of the country and learn about their experiences.
Professors are similarly isolated—by the occupation’s system of permits and checkpoints as well as by the heavy teaching loads. As one female professor said, “Just knowing someone who works in your field from another university is an achievement.” Travel abroad for conferences or research can be even more difficult, as academics are frequently denied exit permits to neighboring Jordan. Hebron University is located in H1, the Palestinian Authority’s designated area of control, but it is not uncommon for agents of the Israeli Shinbet to request meetings with faculty members. The Shinbet turns the names of uncooperative professors over to the PA’s security forces. In one case from 2011, the PA arrested a Hebron University instructor and tortured him for two weeks on the grounds that he dismissed the possibility of a two-state solution. As the professor stated, “The PA works for Israeli interests and Israeli security.”
At Hebron University, class cancellations are the norm due to the frequent closures and curfews imposed by the Israeli army. The only way to cover all the material on the syllabus is to tack on two or three extra weeks to each term. Teachers are accustomed to composing special exams because the disruptions of military occupation cause students to miss the regularly scheduled exam so often. Students resident in Hebron are subject to nighttime army raids and sound grenades that disrupt sleep, not to mention the constant threat of arrest or worse. One faculty member rattled off the names of three students in the department who had been killed by the army in recent years. He continued, “It’s a small community. People get affected when a student gets killed. It’s hard to teach depressed students under this psychological pressure.”