Community Engagement from the Margin: Zionism and the Case of the Palestinian Student Movement in the Israeli Universities

By Makkawi, Ibrahim | Arab Studies Quarterly, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Community Engagement from the Margin: Zionism and the Case of the Palestinian Student Movement in the Israeli Universities


Makkawi, Ibrahim, Arab Studies Quarterly


Abstract: The recently emerging concept of community engagement is better conceived as a context dependent concept. However, when examining the case of native communities living in colonial situations, community engagement by universities of the colonial authorities fail to capture the level of grassroots organizing among students of the colonized communities as a form of community engagement, albeit community engagement from the margin. The Palestinian community in Israel, lives in a colonial situation in its own homeland where the Israeli universities have been established as an integral part of the Zionist colonial project in Palestine. As the Palestinian formal educational system, hegemonic and identity blurring, the Palestinian Student Movement in the Israeli universities is conceived as a grassroots form of community engagement intending to reconstruct and reassert a shared sense of collective-national identity among the Palestinian students within the Israel campuses. Furthermore, Palestinian student activists are involved in community grassroots organizing and action within their own home communities and places of residence. This form of grassroots organizing and political action by members of colonized communities, calls our attention to re-conceptualization of the conventional understanding of the concept of university-community engagement.

Keywords: Palestinians in Israel, Student Movement, community engagement, colonial education, Zionism

Introduction

The concept of community engagement has been central to intellectual debates and discussions in a number of disciplines, including sociology, political sciences and community psychology. Following such widespread cross-disciplinary focus, "community engagement" has been deployed in a wide variety of forms and contexts by a range of sectors including government structures seeking to deliberately involve communities in political processes (Head, 2007), juvenile justice systems dealing with substance abuse and delinquency (Nissen, 201 1), western governments seeking assistance from their local Muslim communities to "combat terrorism" (Spalek and Imtoual, 2007), mental health organizations (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1997), and educational institutions - mainly institutions of higher education (Bond and Paterson, 2005).

Around the world universities, like many other public institutions, also initiate engagement projects in support of their local community surroundings (Bringle and Hatcher, 2002), or society at large through research and service-learning which represent a broad variety of forms and projects of university-community engagement (see Bond and Paterson, 2005; Dempsey, 2010; Dulmus and Cristalli, 2012; Lazarus, Erasmus, Hendricks, Nduna, and Slamai, 2008; Smith, 2000; Thompson, Story, and Butler, 2003; Winter, Wiseman, and Muirhead, 2006). Examples include collaborative research projects involving university-community partnership, universities developing agendas to strengthen the local community, and service learning as forms of campus-community engagement.

Irrespective of the form or sector involved, engagement initiatives target community in some sort of action that is presumably beneficial to the community and the formal institution that initiates and facilitates the engagement process. Within the process of community engagement conceived in this way the official, well-resourced, powerful and mission governed organization usually takes the lead in the community engagement process.

While community engagement produces many positive outcomes, there are a number of problematic issues, in the corpus of mainstream literature focused on university-community engagement. Below I focus on three problematic areas. First, there appears to be a tendency to discuss institutions of higher education and their community engagement work as if they are ideologically neutral and operating within homogeneous and conflict-free social contexts. …

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