Wednesday, June 21, 2006


NYTimes: A Campus for 'Scholars, Not Fighters'

That's the headline of an article in today's New York Times. I was intrigued, and went for a closer look:
A Campus for 'Scholars, Not Fighters' on a Settlement Site

Khalil Hamra/Associated Press
A poster of Yasir Arafat has a place of honor on a
cafeteria wall on the new campus of Al Aksa University.

Published: June 21, 2006

GAZA, June 16 — A Palestinian college is growing from the rubble of an uprooted Israeli settlement.

Nearly a year ago, the Israelis pulled all their 9,000 settlers and military forces out of the Gaza Strip and then took bulldozers and backhoes to what used to be homes, schools, shops and clinics, leaving a few gutted synagogues, a few hundred greenhouses and tons of rubble.

Interesting, how the NYT's cultural bias permeates the text from the very beginning. Read how the brutal Israelis used bulldozers to destroy beautiful homes and schools, leaving "a few gutted synagogues" and "a few hundred greenhouses". Never mind that the homes and towns that were levelled were Israeli, deliberately cleared -- by Israel -- to make room in the Gaza Strip, made Jew-free at the Palestinians' own insistence. (When have you last heard of a country forcibly relocating thousands of her own citizens, to their vehement opposition, at the request of the country's enemies?) Never mind that the synagogues were still standing until Palestinian mobs destroyed them and burned them; never mind that the greenhouses -- hundreds of greenhouses -- were deliberately left intact by Israel (again, by the request of the Palestinian Authority) as a major source of income for Gaza residents, until Palestinian mobs destroyed them too.

No, the upshot here is that where Israelis destroy, Palestinians build a college campus... one festooned with posters of the late unlamented Yasser Arafat.
Throughout most of the former settlements, Palestinians have thoroughly mined the debris for metal, wiring, fixtures and almost anything usable or sellable. But despite promises at the time, not an ounce of rubble has been removed or reprocessed, leaving a post-apocalyptic landscape baking in the unforgiving sun.
Promises by whom, I wonder? (Again, the implication is that the rubble was all generated by Israel, and that removing it was Israel's responsibility. Wrong on both counts, I'm afraid.)
Except at the site of Neve Dekalim. On nearly 41 acres surrounding what used to be the largest school in what used to be called the Gush Katif bloc, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, decreed a campus. He granted it to Al Aksa University, affiliated with his Fatah party, which lost elections this year to Hamas.

With seed money of $1.5 million from the sheik of Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, the university hired its own security guards, built its own wall and started clearing and rebuilding.
Here some interesting details come (inadvertently) to light. This will be a new campus of al-Aksa University... which is "affiliated" with Fatah, the terrorist organization that was once the core of the PLO. (Yes, Fatah is "moderate", when compared with Hamas... but that's not saying much. Historically, this has meant that Fatah was willing to dismember Israel piece by piece, whereas Hamas wanted everything immediately.) Presumably, construction of this new Fatah-aligned campus is not to the liking of Hamas; hence the need for a wall and security guards from the very beginning.

(I'm going to take a moment to wonder at the incongruity of this. Can you imagine a university, out of the thousands in the United States, that aligns itself deliberately and strongly with, say, the Democratic Party? Sure, some universities lean to the left politically -- most of them, some would say -- and some lean to the right... but can you imagine a university adopting the party platform of the Democrats? The analogy is not quite right, of course... the Democrats don't have their own extranational army, as Fatah does. Nor do the Democrats go out to kill innocent people as a cynical political tool. And you thought American politics were rough?)

By the way, if you're wondering about the name -- al-Aksa is an Arabic term from the Koran, usually taken to refer to Jerusalem. (Hence the al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, and so on.) Indeed, al-Aksa University has been a hotbed of terrorism for many years, and has been temporarily closed down by the Israel Defense Forces many times for rabble-rousing and for fomenting terrorism. Will this new campus be any different?
The first students appeared in March, as construction went on around them, and now some 2,000 men drawn from cramped branches of the overcrowded university all over southern Gaza are taking their exams here. A new classroom building is going up to house 4,000 women, who are taught separately in this conservative society.

Mahmoud al-Shami, the deputy dean of student affairs, said he hoped that the women could be part of the campus by September for at least two days a week as building continued.
(emphasis added)

Well, no doubt we should be pleased that the Palestinians -- long considered among the most secular and Westernized of Arab societies -- are educating their women as well. I have to wonder, though, at 4,000 women -- twice the number of men currently on campus -- being forced into a single building, where they may be permitted to study two days a week (or perhaps even more!).

Okay, let's be fair -- perhaps what the article meant to say was that the women's building would still be under construction in the fall, allowing studying for only part of the week. Still, that didn't seem to get in the way of the male students, did it?
Mr. Shami showed off his office, with its satellite Internet connections, new desk, fixtures and fittings. "Now we're focusing on creating scholars, not fighters," he said.
Ah yes, the "scholars not fighters" bit. This is now to be a campus where peaceful pursuits are studied, is it not? That's what the headline says, after all. But other than the quip from al-Shami, there's nothing whatever to back that up. Indeed, the article ends on an ominous note:
A group of students wandered on the repaved walkways, chatting excitedly after finishing a linguistics exam. Almutaz Abu Sittah, 19, tall and handsome, was proud of the campus but dour about the future.

"There's little optimism," he said. "The world is besieging us. And there's no real government, and no real state to govern."

Does he feel freer? "We've grown up," he said, "with vengeance in our hearts."
Perhaps the University administrators want 'scholars, not fighters'. But it sounds as though the students themselves have other ideas.


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