Why isn’t Palestinian history taught in SA universities?

Halim Gençoğlu writes, ‘I am curious why we don’t teach Palestinian history in South African universities.’ Photo: Gareth Dawson Sarah Baartman Hall

Halim Gençoğlu writes, ‘I am curious why we don’t teach Palestinian history in South African universities.’ Photo: Gareth Dawson Sarah Baartman Hall

Published Feb 4, 2024


In 2009, upon my arrival from Istanbul, I entered the house on Jordan Street in Bo-Kaap, where the couple, Nazlie and Ismail Davids, welcomed me. Noticing a flag in the corner, I asked if anyone from Palestine was present. “We all support Palestinians,” said Nazlie. Unaware that my grandfather, Lieutenant Husain Effendi, had died in Jerusalem while fighting against the British army, I was equally unaware that I would encounter the flag of Palestine at the tip of South Africa.

Fifteen years later, my wife, Safiye, and I, along with the Davids couple, were discussing the recent International Court of Justice order that Israel must do everything within its power to prevent genocidal acts against Palestinians in 2024. The acts intentionally create conditions aimed at causing the physical destruction of Gaza’s people. Undoubtedly, this is a magnificent achievement for South Africa and Palestine. However, it is time to discuss and teach this in universities here.

For me, choosing to teach in South Africa stems from Türkiye’s historical ties to the region, particularly through the Ottoman Empire. Studying Palestinian history with Turkish sources allows for a comprehensive examination of the intertwined past, shedding light on shared historical experiences shaping the present.

Incorporating Turkish sources enriches the narrative by examining historical, cultural, diplomatic and humanitarian aspects. Thus, teaching Palestinian history in South Africa can foster global awareness, promote empathy and encourage a nuanced understanding of historical conflicts.

The effort also aligns with South Africa’s history of overcoming apartheid, encouraging solidarity with struggles for justice and human rights worldwide.

Africa boasts a rich history of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles, echoing the Palestinian resistance against occupation. Teaching Palestinian studies in Africa fosters historical solidarity, connecting diverse struggles for justice and liberation. Integrating Palestinian history into African education enhances global awareness, providing students with a broader perspective on geopolitical issues.

Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fosters empathy and nuanced insights into global challenges. Studying Palestinian history alongside African history encourages critical thinking about commonalities and differences in various struggles for self-determination, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of international relations.

Teaching Palestinian studies aligns with human rights education principles, offering an opportunity to discuss the importance of upholding human rights across political and cultural contexts.

Palestine studies are crucial not only for defining the apartheid regime in Palestine but also for comprehending the diverse perspectives within the Jewish community, acknowledging the many Jewish supporters of Palestinian liberation.

Nelson Mandela asserted 30 years ago that our freedom remained incomplete without Palestinian freedom. However, only recently has the inclusion of Palestinian studies in African curricula gained traction, sparking debates on its relevance in educational frameworks.

A few years ago, and recently, I offered to teach Palestinian studies at UCT.

However, its significance may not yet be fully understood, or Zionist propaganda might be influencing our educational institutions in South Africa. Otherwise, I am curious why we don’t teach Palestinian history in South African universities.

* Halim Gençoğlu.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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