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West Bank: American-style college for Palestinians hopes students stay

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Daniel Estrin

(Read caption) Palestinian students at Honors College read their work aloud.

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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

On a crisp November morning, six Palestinian men and women read passages aloud in halting English about a Mexican-American boy struggling with his Hispanic identity. Their professor, Rebecca Granato, pushes them: “What does this metaphor mean? What’s going on here?”

Ms. Granato’s Language and Thinking class is one of the inaugural courses of Honors College, the brainchild of Bard University President Leon Botstein in New York and his counterpart, Sari Nusseibeh, at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem. Bankrolled with $1.5 million from the George Soros Open Society Initiative and scholarships from the Consulate General of the United States in Jerusalem, Honors College awards dual degrees from the two universities along with a dose of American educational values.

“[Palestinian students] are geared at remembering parts of a text and reciting things back,” said Granato, one of the program’s six full-time faculty and a Bard graduate. “But when you ask them what that means, they can’t think more deeply about it.” The program’s 34 students are Palestinian-Americans and children from villages and refugee camps. In the classroom they take on an American casualness, arriving late and clutching travel mugs of coffee.

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