An Education In Incitement
’Tis education forms the common mind,
Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.
(Alexander Pope, Epistles to Several Persons, 1734)
What do the convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti (currently serving five life sentences), the suicide bomber who murdered nine people and wounded over 20 others at Tsrifin in 2003, the founder of the Hamas military wing Yahya (‘the engineer’) Ayash and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement have in common?
All of the above terrorists - and several more - studied at Birzeit University near Ramallah which has been under the control of the Palestinian National Authority since the mid 1990s according to the Oslo Accords.
Birzeit is notorious for its extremism and the fact that in elections for its student council, rival terror factions compete for the student vote.
“A third example of a Palestinian university where there has been major crime incitement is Birzeit University near Ramallah. At the end of 2003, elections were held for the student government council. The campaign featured models of exploding Israeli buses. In the debate, the Hamas candidate asked the Fatah candidate: "Hamas activists in this university killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?" Needless to say, the "Zionists" are largely Israeli civilians”
As an American student at Birzeit noted in 2009, little has changed on that front since the end of the second Intifada.
“Today was the culmination of election season at Birzeit University, for the university’s student council. Let me first start by explaining a bit about the student council. Elections here are nothing like student government in the U.S., as students take them incredibly serious. Technically, the student council and the student unions (parties) are supposed to be about academics and the university and not about politics, but in reality they are all about politics. Each student union is directly linked to a greater political party in Palestine, for example the Islamic Bloc student union is basically Hamas, while “shabeeba” are Fatah. “
In fact, with elections – both national and local - in wider Palestinian society being something of a rarity, the annual student elections at Birzeit are often considered to be a way of testing the pulse of Palestinian political sentiment. In 2010, Hamas boycotted the student elections there, very much in the manner which it refuses to engage in the democratic process in wider society.
“This year, the Islamist bloc (an alliance between Hamas and Islamic Jihad) boycotted the March 31 elections to protest more than 70 of their members being imprisoned by the PA, a claim confirmed by independent observers. Voter turnout dropped to 57 percent, compared to 84 percent last year, when Islamists participated. In addition, some 12 percent of student voters cast void or blank ballots. The Fatah youth bloc won 31 seats in the 2010 student council elections, a leftist coalition took another 16 seats, and the Palestinian National Initiative won 3 seats, whereas in 2009 Fatah youth won 24 seats, the Islamist bloc 22 seats, the Popular Front 4 seats, and the People’s Party 1 seat. It is significant that, even though Fatah won more seats in 2010, the actual number of votes for Fatah dropped by 13 percent, even with the boycott by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are of course both proscribed terror organizations, but the fact that they run in student elections and openly operate in Birzeit University does not appear to be of concern to the Charity Commission for England and Wales, which granted charitable status to the ‘Friends of Birzeit’ association based in London. Neither does it appear to worry the chancellors of British universities such as Edinburgh and Stirling whose student associations twinned with that of Birzeit.
Equally, if readers find themselves pondering the question of why the staff of Birzeit University itself appear to be at best unperturbed by the unfettered extremist activity on their campus (considering its murderous past results), it may be helpful to know that of the nineteen people who make up the Founding Committee, Steering Committee and Advisory Board of the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), thirteen are either current or former lecturers, officials or trustees of that university.
PACBI leads the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, but of course its real aim is not merely to persuade musicians to refuse to appear in Tel Aviv or to encourage people not to buy Israeli goods. The bottom line of all the PACBI rhetoric is that with its uncompromising demand for the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees to places west of the ‘green line’, it aspires to eliminate Israel as the Jewish state in precisely the same manner as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad do. Members of PACBI, including the suited academics at Birzeit, may not be building bombs, firing rockets or strapping on suicide belts, but their ultimate aims are identical to those who do.
In April 2010, PACBI produced a document endorsed by ‘Palestinian youth’, including the Birzeit University Student Council. The document states that “we declare our rejection of normalization with the Israel (sic) on all levels”. The definition of ‘normalization’ given is as follows:
The definition of normalization, in brief, is “participating in any project, initiative or activity whether locally or internationally, that is designed to bring together-whether directly or indirectly- Palestinian and/or Arab youth with Israelis (whether individuals or institutions) and is not explicitly designed to resist or expose the occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression inflicted upon the Palestinian people.”
In other words, PACBI rejects any attempts to build bridges through dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli youth. It even provides a list of what it considers to be ‘offending’ organizations:
“Reject the efforts of Israel and its apologists around the world, who aim to direct our efforts at convincing Israel of our inalienable rights rather than resisting its oppression through legitimate and legal means to obtain them; especially organizations that aim to convince us that that conflict is but a symptom of psychological barriers that can disappear through dialogue with the other. Such organizations they completely ignore the reality which is Israel’s oppression and systematic discrimination against the Palestinian people. Organizations like Seeds of Peace, One Voice, NIR School, IPCRI, Panorama, and others specifically target Palestinian youth to engage them in dialog with Israelis without recognizing the inalienable rights of Palestinians, or aiming to end Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid.”
Further, the document states that its signatories “[a]ssert our right to resist Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people through all formsof resistance” (my emphasis) and “declare that we will begin our struggle against all normalization projects in our academic and cultural institutions”. In other words, not only is there no commitment to non-violence in this document (we are all aware that ‘resistance’ means terror attacks upon civilians, among other things), there is also total rejection of dialogue and the establishment of cordial, working relations with Israel and Israelis.
Obviously, there can be no progress in finding negotiated and acceptable solutions to the current conflict without dialogue. There can be little hope for peaceful co-existence for future generations if they cannot even play football together, take part in joint environmental projects or study together. Therefore, what PACBI promotes is not a way to a brighter future in the Middle East, but at best a fossilization of the status quo.
BDS is a particularly tempting option for ‘pro-Palestinian’ activists around the world to opt to support because it actually demands very little of them whilst supplying copious amounts of often publicly recognized ‘feel-good’ factor. However, those who genuinely do wish to help Palestinians and Israelis build bridges and make progress towards co-existence should refuse to support the PACBI-led BDS movement because it categorically rejects all dialogue or collaboration in the search for a way forward.
Recently Roger Waters issued a much-publicized call for artists to boycott Israel. He would better serve the interests of the people he claims to support by considering just how much his own declaration “we don’t need no thought control” applies to the influence pernicious organizations such as PACBI are exerting over Palestinian youth in institutions such as Birzeit University. We – the citizens of the Middle East who hope to find a peaceful solution to our problems – don’t need that kind of education.
Hadar Sela is a Contributing Writer for the Propagandist living in the Middle East