After the violent March raid of An-Najah campus in Nablus by the Palestinian Authority, there was talk of the stationing of government security personnel outside universities, to ensure that non-student 'agitators' were not coming in the campus to 'incite the students'. The idea that a university might be a place where ideas - including political ideas - should be freely exchanged, didn't appear to enter the dinosaur brains of those who decide such things.
This week, I was shocked to hear and read that the proposal was indeed to be taken up, as traditional congratulation announcements from obsequious well-wishers to a new University Security Apparatus head appeared in the Arabic press and today's Jerusalem Post announced on page 3 that "Arafat establishes new university security force".
Some space will definitely appear in this diary at a later date to discuss the appropriation of Palestinian Authority human rights abuses of Palestinians by the now incumbant Israeli right wing as a means of drawing attention away from the past (& present) history of massive Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinians. At the moment however, let judgement fall on our own camp.
With the Post, one is never sure about who is saying what in its highly editorialised articles, so the sentence stating that the new security force was established "to contain dissent at Palestinian universities" could either be an indirect quote or the writer's opinion. An example?
During the Intifada, the Palestinian universities were a center of protest against Israeli rule. Under the PA, the universities have again become a fertile ground of dissent against the Palestinian authorities.
Right. In other words, the educated and articulate people who can think for themselves are basically a pain in the ass for every undemocratic government, occupation or otherwise. Note how "dissent" is used as a dirty word here. In the Merriam-Wenbster Consise School and Office Dictionary, the verb "dissent" is defined as:
How subversive! Anyway, the article was very revealing:
"They will be responsible from [sic] everything from monitoring the political atmosphere on campus to making arrests of students who incite against the PA", said one source.
The University Security Organ [sic] is to be headed by Abu Samir Kudwa. The force itself is only now beginning to be set up, but is slated to begin operations soon, according to the sources.
I hasten to point out that support for the Oslo accords is no measure of whether people support peace. Two-thirds of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace talks were Birzeit faculty. Well over that number of the same people now think that Oslo sucks. In other words, to be "anti-Oslo" or to "be concerned about Oslo's negative effects on the Palestinians" is not an extremist viewpoint.
And although Arafat has stated he has many doubts about Oslo in the presence of Birzeit student leaders and administration employees, he continues to keep people in prison for political beliefs amounting to the very same thing.
Meanwhile, an article in the same edition of the Post, this time page 2, states that, "PA officials confiscate book critical of Arafat's policies". Oslo 2 - Peace without Land by Palestinian academic Edward Said, a professor of English at Columbia University in New York and renouned author of several now-standard Palestinian texts. Ministry officials went into "at least one" Ramallah bookshop to confiscate copies of the Arabic text, some articles from which were published in last year's Peace and Its Discontents.
On the BBC World Service the same night, listeners could hear a very angry Said explaining that he was first alerted to the phenomenon three weeks ago by friends in the West Bank, who told him that it wasn't just going on in Ramallah, it was happening everywhere.
A former Birzeit student, now a second leutenant in the Palestinian intellegence, told me that it was "Haki fadi" ("empty talk") when I confronted him with the news item during a visit to our office. Yet, the remaining academic bones in his body twinged a little as he spoke, clearly worried at the possibility of such a crass silencing of a respected Palestinian academic who was the first recipient in history of an honourary doctorate from Birzeit University.
Thought that everything was hunky-dory after Oslo? The Palestinians are still a long way away from the freedom they have sought for so long. We're definitely in for some hard times. Stay tuned to this diary...assuming of course that it's not the next to fall under the hammer.