Fittingly, this issue’s personality is the prominent educator Musa Nasir (1895 -1971). Though a statesman as well and heavily involved in politics and public affairs (twice elected member of Parliament, Head of the delegation to the UN, and several times a Minster), education was his passion and closest to his heart. He gave it priority as he strongly believed that it was only through a wholesome educational system that the country can produce good and responsible citizens who would appreciate and serve public welfare. Even as early as 1946, he realized one of his dreams for higher education by establishing a nucleus of a school of public administration in his own home in what is now West Jerusalem. The school closed down as a result of the 1948 Nakbah.
Birzeit High School was Nasir’s laboratory for experiments in educational methods. He believed in a system that could accommodate talented and normal students, as well as slow learners, and he encouraged and facilitated the education of women. He supported his sister Nabiha Nasir, co-founder of Birzeit High School, which attracted students from all over Palestine due to its liberal and progressive principles. When his sister passed away in 1951 he was fully in charge of the institution and developed it into a junior college - a first in the country at that time.
He strongly believed that a junior college would help bridge the gap between high school and university, socially, culturally as well as academically, especially that there were no universities in the country then. But character building and moral values were part of his educational system as well. In fact, the pledge that Birzeit University graduates make at the end of the graduation ceremony was initiated by him. The pledge alludes to the fact that education does not give one the privilege of boasting, but on the contrary it is an added responsibility to serve the public. That was essentially the motto that Nasir lived by.
His low-key initiative in the wake of the 1948 Nakbah to conduct a general census for the thousands of Ramle and Lydda residents who sought refuge in Birzeit testifies to his sense of public responsibility. Scores of volunteers gathered in his home in Birzeit to produce some of the earliest documentation on refugees. The records were greatly valued by the Red Cross, the first international agency entrusted with the Palestinian refugees, and Nasir was decorated by the agency for this initiative.
As head of the Royal Commission appointed by the King of Jordan in the late fifties to study the possibility of establishing a university, he recommended that the university be established in Jerusalem. He realized that Jerusalem would be the natural and more attractive site for a university and would serve a political message that Jerusalem was an Arab city. However, his recommendation was not considered and the University of Jordan was established in Amman in 1961. At a later stage, and after he had passed away in 1971, Birzeit College developed in 1974 into the first Arab university to be established in Palestine.
Nasir was one of a handful of Palestinians who had a university education before World War I. He graduated in 1914 with a BA in physics from the American University of Beirut. He was the valedictorian of the graduating class. The title of his speech was, “Towards Excellence,” - something that he always tried to achieve throughout his life.