Just three Palestinian students enrolled to study at LSE from the years 2006-09, but this number has increased significantly as the current academic year has seen 40 applicants yield 11 offers for Palestinian students to study on Houghton Street, a freedom of information request has revealed. 8 students from Palestine are currently enrolled either as undergraduate or graduate students at the LSE, the highest ever total.
Speaking to The Beaver, founders of the Palestinian Solidarity Initiative (PSI) Ziyaad Yousef and James Caspell adopted a cautiously optimistic stance, noting that although the news is fantastic, that ‘given the relative populations of Israel and Palestine there remains work to do, but LSE’s own figures are encouraging’. Even if discounting the disparity of opportunity between Israeli and Palestinian students, any improvement in the circumstances of students living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza must be recognised as a significant achievement given the dire circumstances these individuals find themselves in. This is referenced by the PSI statement, which references explicitly ‘…the backdrop of of living under siege, house demolitions, illegal arrests and military terror’ as having an impact on the increasing amount of LSE students and faculty who overtly support the right of Palestinian students to access education and achieve their potential.
These figures are underpinned by the real feeling of cultural engagement, solidarity and inclusion amongst Palestinian students at LSE, most obviously present in the ongoing Boycotts, Sanctions, Divestments campaign, the perennially active Palestine Society and the fact that one of the school’s elected officers, C&W officer Aysha Fekaiki, is a prominent pro-Palestine Activist. More impressive still are the less obvious manifestations of Palestinian engagement on campus. In 2015, 2 of the 6 Palestinian students enrolled at the school ran as candidates for Sab officer positions; almost certainly the highest ratio of of political engagement of any demographic at the school. In the event, both students were unfortunately unsuccessful with Haytham Mousa dropping out after the second round of voting for A&D, whilst Ahmed Salah pushed Jon-Rhys Foster all the way to the final round, eventually settling for a second place finish. Nevertheless, both individuals ran fantastic, inclusive and open campaigns.
Ahmed, who has since graduated with an MSc Accounting and Finance and moved to the outskirts of Manchester to take up a position with Markit, spoke fondly of his time at LSE and in particular his election campaign. ‘It was one of the best experiences of my life…I couldn’t do this at home [because] usually you have to be a party of a political party…but here at LSE I found the chance to run as an individual.’ With tongue firmly in cheek, he sardonically added ‘I thought after living in a conflict zone I could handle any kind of pressure…until I ran for election at LSE!’
Ahmed’s desire to get involved in student politics was inspired by his peers at LSE, from the classmates he felt he learned most from to friends in every corner of the globe (but who can’t quite seem to escape LSE!), a recurring theme in his fond recollection of his time in London is diversity and community.
WIthout doubt there remains much to be done in helping students from Palestine and conflict zones around the world in fulfilling their potential, but after one of the most negative weeks in my time at LSE, figures and stories such as this are a timely reminder that things might always be as bad as they seem.
The Palestinian Solidarity Initiative is an NGO aimed at raising awareness of contemporary issues in the region and, more specifically, providing potential LSE students with practical mentoring and pastoral support to assist as much as possible with the application process. For more information or to register as a mentor, visit www.palestinesolidarity.org