By Amira Hass
'Now everything depends on your will and your decision. If you want to study
for a doctorate in Haifa .... that's where you will study, under my guidance,'
Anna Sfard, a professor of mathematics education, told a student who had just
completed his master's degree in her field, with high honors. That was less than
a year ago, at the end of a professional discussion between the two.
Mathematics education is a relatively new and rapidly developing field,
explains Sfard, a professor in the department of education at the
University of Haifa. She claims that paradoxically, just at the time when the
need for scientific and mathematical tools has increased, a general decline in
student achievements in these areas has begun, all over the world. The goal is
to ensure that mathematics studies will equip students with suitable tools for
dealing with a technologically oriented world.
The student of mathematics education, Jihad al-Shwaikh, observed his
interlocutor from behind elliptical glasses, and remained silent. He didn't
react to her immediately, as one would expect from someone who has just been
told that in addition to his high grades, he clearly has abilities, ideas and
love of the field of education and teaching, which qualify him to continue his
studies. Sfard seemed surprised by his silence.
Here I must reveal that Al-Shwaikh, a native of Gaza (August 1967) and a
resident of Ramallah since 1990, is a good friend of mine. I was present at this
meeting, half of which I had trouble understanding. But the sparks that flashed
in the eyes of both of them, Jihad's rolling laughter and Sfard's smiles, showed
how close they have been brought by the subject that is so important to them.
I though about the nice connection that had been forged: between a native of
the Al-Shati refugee camp, the son of a family originating in Ashdod, and a
famous Israeli professor in the field of mathematics education - a native of
Poland and the daughter of sociologist and philosopher Sigmund Bauman, who was
fired from his job at the University of Warsaw, and in 1968 was forced to leave
Poland with his family because of
institutionalized anti-Semitism there.
Sfard knew that during the past 10 years, Al-Shwaikh had worked in several
Palestinian institutions for the development of teaching. But she did not yet
know earlier details of his life: that as a child he lived with his mother and
siblings in one room, six people, without a father. That he began to work in
Israel at the age of 12, during every vacation, and especially in the summers,
in the fields of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, in the packing plant in Sderot, and starting
in 11th grade, in construction as well. As an outstanding student, byhigh school
he had received a stipend that helped his entire family. When he went to study
mathematics at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, in 1985, he continued to
work in Israel in construction, in the summers and whenever the university was
Sfard justly assumed that the person sitting opposite her had dedicated himself
to studies and research. Therefore his sudden silence, the eyes that stared at
her as though he didn't understand what she had said, surprised her.
Ford Foundation grant
Here I had to intervene and explain: Like other natives of Gaza who live in the
West Bank, Al-Shwaikh has in effect been imprisoned in his city, Ramallah, for
more than five years. On the one hand, for about 10 years Israel has been
preventing Gazans from changing the address in their ID cards to one in the West
Bank, even if they have lived there for years. On the other hand, for about two
years Israel has considered them 'illegal residents' in the West Bank. And
therefore, Al-Shwaikh does not dare to leave Ramallah, for fear than a pedantic
soldier at a checkpoint will discover his address and expel him to Gaza. He
doesn't travel south of the Khalil Sakakini cultural center. He no longer
remembers the north beyond Bir Zeit University. In such a situation, he told
Sfard, when all the physical horizons narrow and close, a person's expectations
of himself and his life shrink. It makes no difference how talented and
ambitious he is. There is always a supreme power that detains, prevents, blocks.
In the summer of 2005, a few months after the meeting with Prof. Sfard, Jihad
Al-Shwaikh was accepted for doctoral studies at the University of Haifa. He also
received a scholarship from the Ford Foundation. Even before that, Sfard had
begun to guide him with respect to his reading material, by exchanging thoughts
and ideas, and by helping him with his research proposal - on how elementary-
and junior-high school students navigate their way through mathematics studies,
and how their learning processes can be streamlined. The title of the
dissertation: 'Geometrical meta-discursive developmental changes: a
During the first semester of the present academic year, he took his first
course with Sfard, by e-mail and telephone, on meta-cognition (thinking about
thinking - one of the fields that Sfard is developing and that Al-Shwaikh has
long been interested in, involving an analysis of the thinking that takes place
during the learning process). At the same time, Al-Shwaikh approached the
Israeli authorities and asked to receive an entry permit to Haifa, and also
tried once again to change his address to Ramallah. The reply he received to
both requests was negative; the Shin Bet security services were opposed to them.
A 'security problem,' was what they wrote to attorneys Kenneth Mann and Sari
Bashi of Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, to which
Al-Shwaikh turned for help.
The nature of the security problem was not explained. The High Court of Justice
will be discussing Al-Shwaikh's case today, and the state has delayed its reply
and asked to submit it only last night. In fact, Al-Shwaikh was arrested at the
end of 1988, during the first intifada, and sentenced to 11 months in prison; he
served most of the sentence in the Ketziot prison, for activity in the 'popular
committees.' He did not confess to the activities attributed to him (incitement
to strike, throwing rocks, painting slogans on walls).
During that period he worked in Israel every day, in construction. After he was
released he returned to his studies in Bir Zeit: He received permits to travel
to the West Bank, to enter Israel, for the purposes of his work in the field of
teaching as well. In 1998 he was invited to a conference of mathematics teachers
in the United States, and traveled via Ben-Gurion airport. In April 2002, during
Operation Defensive Shield, he was arrested in Ramallah - like thousands of
other young men who were detained for several days, with or without
interrogation, and released. He was released after six days. Had there been any
information about him, about his 'dangerousness,' he would have been put on
trial or - like others - sent to administrative detention.
So where did the 'security problem' come from? Experience teaches that the ways
of coping with such a problem - in the cases of Al-Shwaikh and many other
thousands of Palestinians - achieve in advance what later on turns out to be
policy: Concerning the issue of the change of address, it is the policy of
separating the population of Gaza from that of the West Bank. In the case of
Al-Shwaikh, can we conclude that the way this problem is dealt with also serves
another purpose: to prevent him from living in Israel? His wife, whom he met in
1990, is an Israeli citizen. They married in 1993. Their request for 'family
unification' was refused 'for security reasons,' in the mid-1990s, long before
the beginning of the process of enactment of overt legislation preventing
Israeli Arab citizens from living with their partners of choice. Is that why the
authorities are afraid of Al-Shwaikh's studies in Haifa?
During the course of the year Al-Shwaikh progressed in his work, by e-mail, but
he cannot meet with the professors and participate in classes where attendance
is mandatory. Due to a lack of alternatives, while waiting for the delayed entry
permit, he has also begun to think about doing his doctoral studies in a
university abroad. Sfard wrote him a letter of recommendation, saying: 'The fact
that I was eager to work with him myself is the best evidence of my high opinion
about his research skills, as well as of him as a person ... It is with regret
that I need to recommend Mr. Al-Shwaikh to you, rather than collaborating with
Will the High Court enable Sfard, a Jewish woman born in Poland, who works in
Haifa and lives in Jerusalem, to teach Jihad al-Shwaikh, a Palestinian from
Gaza, an 'illegal resident' in his home in Ramallah?
The following article is by pro-Palestinian Haaretz journalist Amira Hass and
is about University of Haifa Professor, Anna Sfard, who agreed to be the advisor
of a Palestinian student, an activist in the Popular Front terror organization.
Fear of the doctoral student in math
Posted on Saturday, April 29 @ Egypt Standard Time by aad
March 8, 2006
By: Amira Hass
The “classified information” was once again at work, in the High Court of
Justice hearing Monday on the petition by Jihad Al-Shwaikh to receive an entry
permit to Israel. He was accepted as a doctoral student in math education at the
University of Haifa; his advisor is Professor Anna Sfard.
Al-Shwaikh was born in 1967 in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza, and has lived in
Ramallah since 1990. He took one course on-line, advised by Sfard, because he
did not receive an entry permit.
The state claims that it is not obligated to permit Palestinians from the
territories into Israel. Its main contention—that “he was active in the
Popular Front terror organization”—was accompanied by intelligence
information provided to justices Aharon Barak, Ayala Procaccia, and Esther Hayut
”The security information is up to date,”President of the High Court Barak
told attorneys Kenneth Mann and Sari Bashi, representing Al-Shwaikh. Although a
written verdict has not yet been rendered, it may be concluded from Barak’s
statements that the justices were persuaded not to let Al-Shwaikh study in
It is difficult to argue with classified intelligence data. That is precisely
its purpose. Let it not be disputed, let the facts to counter it not be brought
to light. After all, it was not suggested that Al-Shwaikh be brought to the
hallowed halls of Israeli justice so he could confront the claims. That is the
nature of classified information: we know things about you you do not even know
about yourself. So shut up.
The “security information” probably shows the Palestinian is dangerous. If
the representatives of the Shin Bet security service and the army sitting behind
closed doors with the justices gave them information about
Al-Shwaikh’s “danger” to the Israeli public and to Israel, they
apparently gave false information. Those who wrote the supposedly up-to-date
(and retroactive) “classified report” about Al-Shwaikh and represented him
as dangerous based on details that are not made public are putting one over on
Al-Shwaikh represents no danger. The contention with which the state responded,
that Al-Shwaikh was “active in the Popular Front terror organization,” has
not been proven. True, he was arrested in 1988 in the first intifada, a popular
uprising that even Israeli public opinion accepted as a legitimate act. Tens of
thousands of young Palestinians who opposed the Israeli occupation filled every
prison compound, jail, and Shin Bet interrogation facility. Mass arrests were
intended to subdue them. But the Shin Bet interrogators were unable to extract
even a confession of (standard) allegations against him: “incitement” to a
strike against the occupation, painting slogans on walls, throwing stones at
army vehicles, or burning tires.
Were Shin Bet personnel privy to the conversations in which Al-Shwaikh came out
passionately against suicide bombings? Did the three Kathe Kollwitz*
reproductions hanging in his apartment in Ramallah implicate him? Is it the
leftist positions he espouses openly—with an emphasis on the development of
human beings and freeing them from the thralls of tradition, on equality in the
distribution of income, opposition to religious coercion, women’s rights,
criticism of the Palestinian Authority and its alienation from its people—or
his stubborn, rational, critical secularism in a society that is so much seeking
divine compassion? Or perhaps the writers of the classified report on Al-Shwaikh
did not hear him speaking at all in his own milieu?
The security establishment knows full well that Al-Shwaikh is dangerous neither
to Israel nor Israelis, neither in Ramallah nor in Haifa.
Something else scares the system in the possibility of his studying math
education at an Israeli university. Here is the best guess: Al-Shwaikh has been
married since 1993 to an Israeli citizen. They met and fell in love in 1990.
They have a nine-year-old boy. Israeli lawmakers, with the assistance of
well-known liberal jurists, are now finalizing the law for the policy that will
in effect prohibit Israeli Arabs from marrying residents of the territories.
The policy is already in force. In 1993, when Al-Shwaikh and his wife sought
“family unification,” they were not told to go and live in Jenin as people
are told today. They were told they had been “turned down due to a security
impediment.” But the security impediment came before the official policy and
paved the way to it. Al-Shwaikh’s studies in Haifa might turn into family
unification through the back door.
Al-Shwaikh is frightening precisely because his case, which goes against every
stereotype, might speak to the heart of the justices. That is the reason the
state must cover itself with “classified information”—so as to frustrate
Al-Shwaikh’s nefarious plan to upset the demographic balance in Israel.
* Kathe Kollwitz is a German artist who lost her only son in the First World
War. Many of her works address the negative effects of war, and one of her most
famous works is entitled “No more war”—ed.