At Palestinian university, Israeli army says no to wall that would ease tension

Instead, Palestinian youths throw stones and the army responds with gunfire and tear gas.

The Palestine Technical University-Kadoorie in Tul Karm has a simple solution to the daily clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths there – a wall around the university to prevent nonstudents from throwing stones at an army pillbox at the separation barrier.

But the Israel Defense Forces is preventing the university from putting up this wall. In mid-November, a Palestinian contractor started laying the groundwork. After a bulldozer driver toiled for eight hours, officers and soldiers showed up, a university vice president, Dirar Aliyan, told Haaretz.

They shoved and hit and humiliated us, said Aliyan, and then confiscated the bulldozer, even though they were told the purpose of the work. The bulldozer stands idle to this day, beside the pillbox.

Studies have been interrupted for at least 21 days over the past two and a half months due to the army’s incursions onto the campus, using gunfire and tear gas. Experimental greenhouses have been damaged and days of student experiments ruined. At least 20 youths have been wounded by gunfire and dozens more sickened by tear gas.

Lecturers and staff, as well as most of the students and their parents, are fed up. Studies are the most important thing at this point, the university’s board of trustees says.

A political advisory committee in the Tul Karm region, where Fatah is dominant, supported the board of trustees’ decision to build the wall. By building it, the university is willing to challenge its branding as a collaborator, an accusation hurled at anyone who doubts the effectiveness of such clashes with the IDF.

The technical university has its roots in the agriculture school established there by the British Mandate authorities in the 1930s. They used funds bequeathed by Iraqi Jewish millionaire Elias Kadoorie, who died in Hong Kong. The bequest provided money for an Arab agricultural school in Tul Karm and a Jewish one near Mount Tabor.

In his book “One Palestine, Complete,” Tom Segev tells how Zionist leaders were disappointed because, contrary to their expectations (based on an inaccurate news item), Kadoorie’s money wasn’t earmarked for Jewish education in Palestine. And the legal heir was the British government, which was given the choice of investing it in either Palestine or Iraq.

The hold on the land

Chaim Weizmann enlisted Kadoorie’s brother to ensure that the money ended up in Palestine. The official in charge of education for the British Mandate government suggested that an elite school for both Jews and Arabs be built with the money.

But the Zionist leadership strenuously objected and succeeded: there would be separation. The Mandate government thought about building an agricultural school for the Arabs and a regular high school for Jews.

At first, the Zionist leaders agreed, but later changed their minds and asked that there be an agricultural school for Jews as well, lest it be said the Jews’ hold on the land was weaker than the Arabs’, Segev says.

The school in Tul Karm was allotted 150 acres, but 50 acres remained in Israel at the end of the 1948 War. After the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, some of the buildings as well as 20 acres were allocated to the agriculture department at An-Najah University in Nablus.

In 2007, the Palestinian Technical University-Kadoorie was established on the rest of the land. This is the only government university in the West Bank, with lower tuition compared to other institutes of higher education, with big discounts for children of teachers and prisoners, and released prisoners.

The university seeks to serve mainly people living in the region; the dream is to establish a technology park, an industrial zone and new buildings. Palestinian tycoon Munib al-Masri donated $4.5 million to set up an economics department, which would join departments of engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical and computer), as well as the departments of agriculture, arts and science.

The separation principle envisioned in the ‘30s is cracked here in one way; one obstacle to the university’s development is the IDF’s firing range built on university land 200 meters away from the library, next to the experimental greenhouses. This range hasn’t been used this year, but it was last year.

Staff members tell of bullets hitting the library. Despite the danger to students and staff, and even though the area belongs to the university, the army has no plans to stop using the range. “Use of the range, a military installation, will continue, based on situation assessments and the army’s needs,” the IDF spokesman told Haaretz.

The “installation” consists of a few mounds of earth, a winding channel of concrete, a few derelict huts, a wide area for the firing range and concrete blocks and slabs.

To the west, 200 to 300 meters away, is the separation barrier, an army pillbox (with the bulldozer next to it), Route 6 and an entry gate from Israel into the Nitzanei Shalom industrial zone. Palestinian complaints in recent years about severe air pollution from Israeli factories there have gone unheeded.

Ambulances at the ready

Since October, when demonstrations against the occupation resumed across the West Bank, at checkpoints and along the separation wall, young people have been climbing the earth mounds at the army installation in Kadoorie and throwing stones at the army position.

The IDF responds using the means at its disposal, including incursions onto the campus. The soldiers throw stun and tear gas grenades, while students and staff inside buildings flee east as the tear gas reaches other buildings, which also empty out.

Ambulances are at the ready, occasionally departing with wailing sirens, making their way through fleeing students. The university also has another concern: The bulldozer’s owner is losing 1,000 shekels ($260) a day while it’s idle. The university cannot compensate him.

In the absence of a wall or fence, the university can’t control who enters the campus. It can try to persuade the students not to join the stone throwers targeting the pillbox and soldiers, but it can’t stop people coming from the nearby refugee camp, high school students or unemployed young people. “Informally, the Israelis told us that we could build a wall next to the university’s buildings,” Aliyan told Haaretz.

This means the university would have to relinquish the open spaces it owns, letting Israel annex them de facto. “I dread the day armed people climb those mounds,” Aliyan said a week ago.

After all, based on experience, that’s what happens when stone throwing that does no real harm is suppressed with tear gas and live fire, wounding people and sometimes killing them. There are feelings of frustration, helplessness and seething fury. All this encourages some people to shoot at symbolic targets like a pillbox or car driven by settlers.

For its part, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said that “over the past month, dozens of instances of violence and disturbances have erupted at the university’s campus, involving hundreds of Palestinians confronting the Tul Karm checkpoint and the soldiers stationed there. Regarding the wall – the contractor started working despite a ban on construction without the required approval from the authorities.”

According to the IDF, “This interfered with security people and constituted a violation of the law. This allowed us to confiscate the equipment – this action conforms with the law. The IDF will continue to prevent people disturbing the peace from reaching Route 6 and the industrial park, which lie close to the university.”

While talking to officials in the army and the Civil Administration, Aliyan said the confiscation of the bulldozer showed that Israel wanted the clashes to continue. In its response to Haaretz, the IDF spokesman made no reference to this claim.