Al-Quds University president denounces extremist rally


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A Nov. 5 rally at the West Bank-based Al-Quds University that featured demonstrators from the Islamic Jihad flashing Nazi-like salutes resulted in Brandeis University recalling its faculty from a joint program. Divisions racked the Palestinian university’s student body and faculty following the demonstration and word that the Boston-based school was suspending its presence at Al-Quds.

International pressure mounted on Al-Quds University President Dr. Sari Nusseibeh to respond to Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence’s demand to condemn what was being called a “radical” behavior at the rally. Nusseibeh told The Media Line that, “We don’t believe in oppressing freedom of opinion, but respecting it. I said clearly about what happens in this rally that such manifestations are harmful to the university. The university will not allow the breaching of respect.”

As for the demand from Boston, Nusseibeh said, “I’m not answerable to Brandeis or anyone else for that matter.”

Fadi Shawahin, the head of the university’s student council, explained that such gestures are often used to signify an oath by members of political organizations and that was what was being seen on Nov. 5.

“One of the ways an oath is done is by putting the hand to the heart; others by raising one finger; and the Islamic Jihad’s oath is done by pointing the full hand to the sky,” Shawahin said. He claimed that some media outlets portrayed the gesture as if it were a Nazi salute and Nazi-style demonstration being permitted on the campus. “This is clear propaganda to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership,” he charged.

The lack of an immediate response from the university administration inflamed reactions from both Brandeis and the Jewish community.

In his statement to The Media Line, Nusseibeh said, “I’m not here as president of the university under occupation and I’m not required to offer a condemnation. I’m required to educate people. I stated very clearly that I am against fascism and Nazism.”

Shawahin said that the student council approved of a proposed activity by the Islamic Jihad student-bloc at the university that was presented as an event to welcome new students. As part of their presentation, “Fifteen members of the party participated in a play that ended with a march on the anniversary of the martyrdom of the late Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Al-Shiqaqi, and to welcome the university’s new students,” he explained. Shiqaqi was killed by Israel in 1995.

Participants dressed in military garb and carried fake assault rifles while performing the Nazi-style salute before a gathered crowd of about 200 people. Israeli flags were laid on the ground and walked on, while a large poster with photos of Palestinian suicide bombers was erected in the square. Some people were also reported to have dressed up as dead Israelis.

“I do not honor suicide bombers. I do not know for a fact that this was the case because I was not there,” Nusseibeh said. “What I did find unacceptable was the picture of the people of the arms extended upwards wearing military uniforms. This is not acceptable on a university campus. Any manifestation of this must be told in a clear way that it is unacceptable. I made this very clear to my students, all 3,000 of them, in Arabic — not in English or Japanese.”

In a statement released on Nov. 11, Brandeis University expressed concern about the event and demanded an investigation by Al-Quds. President Lawrence then reached out to his counterpart requesting that Nusseibeh condemn the rally in both Arabic and English.

“The response that we received was unsatisfactory,” said Ellen de Graffenreid, senior Vice President of Communications at Brandeis University, citing the lack of a condemnation as the primary reason for Brandeis’ decision to remove their faculty.

“I’m very sorry that these pressures made President Lawrence take the action that he did,” Nusseibeh said. “Our mission and his should be to fight extremism and to bring about a peaceful future. I’m happy anytime they decide to go back on the decision. I welcome it anytime.”

A statement issued by Al-Quds elaborated on the relationship with Brandeis, calling it “a partnership promoting peace and human values and is mutually beneficial by bringing minds together to think of the power of education and use it against the extremist influences that exist out there.”

Social media was awash with outrage on both sides of the conflict. A Jerusalem member of the movement that advocates anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) posted, “Brandeis University endorses academic boycott…of Palestinians. Do they have an issue w/ Israeli racism on campus?”  Pro-Israel NGO Monitor said that it was “glad to see @BrandeisU did the right thing in the face of appalling intolerance and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Al-Quds University has 18,000 students spread across three West Bank campuses. The collaboration with Brandeis began in 1998, but more recently budget issues reduced the program to only a faculty exchange between the two universities. Bard College in New York, which also operates an exchange program with Al-Quds University, did not enter the controversy.

“The majority of staff and students were disappointed by the disturbances of the rally and that they were against the event,” an Al-Quds professor who requested to remain anonymous told The Media Line. “Some people are extremists and are destroying everything, all the efforts we have put into the university investing in people to respect each other. The extremists help the extreme. We do not agree with honoring suicide bombers. We are in the middle.”

Islamic Jihad has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. It has carried out dozens of attacks against Israeli citizens since its foundation in the 1970s.

Al-Quds University has set up an investigative committee to determine who participated in the event and in particular, whether the participants included members of the university’s faculty or student body. Dr. Nusseibeh told The Media Line that he is waiting for the report and will act as the case will warrant.

Diana Atallah contributed reporting from Ramallah.

Palestinian journalist gets jail term for Abbas insult


A Palestinian Authority court sentenced a local journalist to a year in jail on Thursday over a picture posted on Facebook that was deemed insulting to Mahmoud Abbas.

The ruling against Mamdouh Hamamreh, who works for the al-Quds TV channel in Bethlehem, is the second this year in which Palestinians have been given jail terms over caricatures of the president.

Journalists and media watchdogs, saying Hamamreh was only “tagged” in the photo and did not create it, criticized the ruling and curbs on media freedom by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The offending image juxtaposed Abbas beside a similar-looking man who plays the part of a collaborator with French colonial forces in an old Syrian television drama.

“They resemble each other in everything,” a caption read.

Many Palestinians perceive Abbas as too conciliatory to Israel and resent coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces overseen by Abbas.

Palestinian rights groups were critical of the ruling.

“(Hamamreh) didn't even publish the picture. When images online are criminalised, it's a very serious violation of basic rights of expression,” criminalizedaid Riham Abu Aita of the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms.

“We don't have a king, we have a president,” she said.

“This issue is between the prosecutor and the court, and the president has nothing to do with its proceedings,” Hassan al-Ouri, legal adviser to Abbas, told Reuters of the Hamamreh case.

A court in the northern West Bank city of Nablus in February sentenced a local man to a year in prison for creating a picture of Abbas to make him look like a football player, and entitled it “the new striker for Real Madrid”.

Anas Awad, 26, denied he had intended any offence and the president promptly pardoned him.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Michael Roddy

Gaza journalists wounded by Israeli attack on buildings


Israeli aircraft hit two Gaza media buildings on Sunday, wounding eight journalists and drawing concern from press covering the fighting between Palestinian militants and the Jewish state.

The Israeli military said the attacks were pinpoint strikes on Hamas communication devices located on the buildings' roofs, and accused the Islamist group of using reporters as human shields to try and protect their operations.

Britain's Sky News, German ARD, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, Beirut-based al Quds television and other broadcasters operate from the two buildings, which are a block apart. One employee from al Quds TV lost his leg in the early morning strike.

The attack came on the fifth day of heavy air strikes on the coastal enclave which Israel says are needed to halt repeated militant rocket launches into its territory.

The Foreign Press Association covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories issued a statement in which it expressed concern over the bombings and quoted a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned attacks against journalists.

Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich denied that journalists were the target of the strike.

“Hamas took a civilian building and used it for its own needs. So the journalists … were serving as human shields for Hamas,” she said.

The military added that in order to avoid worse casualties, it had refrained from firing at an Hamas operations room which it said was located inside one of the buildings.

Abdel-Ghani Jaber, director of a private Palestinian media production company, said two of his employees were wounded when the blast shattered the windows of his office.

“I was asleep when it happened … I jumped from the mattress because it sounded so near,” Jaber said, “I wanted to look out the window when someone told me the building was being bombed and I started to run. As I ran a second missile hit just above our floor and damaged a room in my office.”

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, journalists held a protest against Sunday's strikes. Palestinian government spokeswoman Nour Odeh said the attacks were “a clear message against the freedom of journalism and opinions”.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned the raid and said that: “Israeli forces jammed the broadcasts of a number of local radio stations.”

An Israeli military spokesman said the army had cut into a Hamas radio frequency on Sunday and used it to broadcast warnings to residents to get away from Hamas properties and avoid becoming casualties.

In a 2008-2009 war against Hamas, Israel attacked one of the same buildings that was blasted on Sunday, again accusing Islamist militant of operating out of the tower block.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Crispian Balmer

Israeli troops on high alert for Al-Quds Day


Israeli troops on the Syrian border and in Jerusalem remained on high alert as Palestinians prepared to mark Al-Quds Day.

Al-Quds Day, observed by Arabs this year on Tuesday, marks Israel’s capture of eastern Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Israeli forces have remained on high alert since Sunday, when hundreds of Syrian protesters converged on Israel’s northern border and attempted to breach it. Syrian officials say 23 protesters were killed by Israeli soldiers during the clashes, though Israeli officials say that number was artificially inflated in order to distract attention from Syrian deaths at the hands of government forces.

Jerusalem forces will remain on high alert until the end of the Shavuot holiday on Wednesday night in Israel.

Meanwhile, 14 people were reported killed and dozens injured in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria Monday after refugees attacked the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine following the funeral of one of the Palestinians killed in the Naksa Day violence Sunday.

The attackers reportedly were angry at the terrorist organization for sending the refugees to the border.

Ahmadinejad: resistance, not peace talks


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked his regime’s annual anti-Israel rallies by saying that the only path for the Palestinians is resistance, not peace talks.

In his speech for Al Quds day, the last Friday in Ramadan launched by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s as an anti-Israel rallying day, Ahmadinejad also said Israel was too “weak” to strike Iran.

Speculation has increased in recent weeks that Israel will strike Iran within a year to keep it from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.

A range of Iranian officials said renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace talks launched this week in Washington would come to naught.

Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister, accused the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders of “betraying” their people by attending and sanctioning the talks. In retaliation, Egypt withdrew an invitation to Mottaki to attend a meeting of members of the non-aligned movement next week.

Iranian media predicted millions of Iranians would rally on Al-Quds day, named for the Arab term for Jerusalem.

“Today millions of people will shout out their will for liberation of the holy Quds from the devil’s claw of Zionists,” the Associated Press quoted the Fars news agency as saying.

VIDEO: Arabic-speaking Israeli prof tells Al-Jazeera: ‘Jerusalem is ours for 3000 years!’


On Al-Jazeera TV, Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University asserts—in Arabic—that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for over 3000 years. 

Available here for the first time with English subtitles.

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