The Islamic University of Gaza on 2 August after it was bombed by the Israeli military.
(Ashraf Amra / APA images)
On Saturday, the Israeli military boasted of bombing a “weapons development center” at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG).
I teach journalism at this university. The section of the campus where I work is close to the administrative department, the target of Israel’s dawn attack.
That department hosts teaching staff belonging to all colleges of the university: medicine, literature, engineering, commerce and others. It does not have a “weapons development center.”
Contrary to what Israel claims, Gaza universities do not have departments dedicated to military research or training. This is in contrast to Israeli universities which play an integral role in the military occupation and weapons development and have actively promoted the onslaught in Gaza.
The attack on IUG, as well as the Israeli occupation forces invasion of Birzeit University in the West Bank in June, was condemned by the American Studies Association executive committee. The American Studies Association voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel last year, sparking a debate within the organization and in the mainstream media about the tactic.
Linked to Hamas?
The IUG is considered by many here to be Gaza’s finest university. It has approximately20,000 students.
Western newspapers have reported that the IUG was “Hamas-linked” in recent days.
That displays a profound ignorance. The IUG was founded in 1978; Hamas did not emerge until almost a decade later.
Some of our students are, indeed, involved in Hamas.
Others are affiliated to Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad or one of the other Palestinian factions.
Are students living under a military occupation not allowed to be politically active?
The insinuation in the Western press that Hamas controls all the university’s activities does not reflect reality.
For the past six years, I have been teaching students how to use English in the media. I have been working for the university’s open education department (also known as the Community Development Institute).
Initially, I was hesitant to join the IUG, fearing that I would have to follow strict religious or political rules. I have no party affiliations and regard myself as a very moderate Muslim.
In 2008, I was called for an interview with the dean of the open education department and two English-language teachers. The interview was a success.
The dean and his colleagues appeared to have no problem with my work for media outlets based in the US, including Free Speech Radio News and The Electronic Intifada. They were kind towards me and made me feel at ease. So I started giving lecturers at the university.
During my first lectures, I was surprised by a number of the students I encountered. I had known some of them previously. To the best of my knowledge, they were neither active in Hamas nor considered themselves to be Islamists.
I had many fruitful discussions with my new students.
At times, I have been openly critical of both Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank. I have talked about the “blue uniforms” of Gaza and the “red-carpet reception” that visitors to the West Bank can expect.
I was satirizing the heavy emphasis on policing by Hamas and how the PA behaves as if it has already succeeded in setting up an independent state.
Not once has the IUG’s administration tried to censor me. Not once have the Hamas-led authorities in Gaza questioned me.
The university’s administration has been helpful and encouraging. They have facilitated some of my initiatives — such as inviting contacts of mine outside Gaza to address students via Skype.
The IUG was bombed by Israel in December 2008 during the early days of Operation Cast Lead, a three-week intensive attack on Gaza. That offensive was also in response to “terrorism,” according to the Israeli narrative.
The American Studies Association has correctly observed that the bombing of Palestinian universities is not only an abuse of academic freedom, it is an attempt to prevent us from enjoying the basic necessities that we need to get by.
Fewer and fewer people are swallowing Israel’s lies. Far from destroying “weapons development centers,” Israel is trying to destroy our lives.
It is intent on denying us the possibility of learning and working in peace.
Israel will not succeed. We will keep on educating our people, no matter how many times we are bombed.