Birzeit University in Ramallah has produced some of the Palestinians’ most famous and deadly terrorists, and the school unabashedly praises them. So when Brown University’s Beshara Doumani became the fifth president (and first American) to lead the school, expectations were high. Birzeit claimed that he was hired because of his “outstanding qualifications and academic and administrative experience,” and Doumani himself wrote of “a need to recalibrate” Birzeit “at a moment of dramatic and radical changes.” If he meant that he was going to convert Terrorist University into something resembling a normal university, his first semester in charge came to an embarrassing close last week.
Doumani is director of Brown University’s Center for Middle East Studies and founder of its New Directions in Palestinian Studies research initiative. He was honored last year with a new endowed chair named for PLO poet Mahmoud Darwish, whom Brown University called “a towering and beloved figure of Palestinian and Arab literature and humanistic values.” Humanism is alien to the PLO, and Darwish was no exception, but Doumani’s education includes a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College in Ohio, and a both a master’s and doctorate from Georgetown University, so at least he has been exposed to humanistic ideals. Unfortunately those ideals seem unwelcome at Birzeit.
On consecutive days in mid-December, first the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and its student followers, and then Hamas and its student followers, held military parades in violation of a 2019 university-wide ban on military displays and a ban on all large gatherings in effect since 2020 due to coronavirus.
Neither ban nor fear of Omicron stopped Hamas’s al Wafaa’ Islamic Bloc and the PFLP’s Progressive Democratic Students Pole from exercising their authority and showing the administration who is really in charge at Birzeit.
The parades only exacerbated disputes among the Hamas and PFLP groups and the Fatah student group named the Martyr Yasser Arafat bloc at Birzeit and followed a month of violence among student groups throughout the Palestinian territories.
The first event was held on December 13, in commemoration of the 54th anniversary of the PFLP, a specially designated terrorist group responsible for over five decades worth of airplane hijacking, kidnapping, and suicide bombing. The next day a second parade — broken up by Israeli forces — was held commemorating the 34th anniversary of Hamas’s founding.
Images and video from the parades in a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) show what look like a neo-Nazi version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
At normal parades, one sees happy people celebrating a season or an important occasion. The Birzeit parades featured lots of angry students, alongside their PFLP and Hamas mentors.
Normal parades use spectacles like floats and balloons to charm joyful crowds in an atmosphere of good cheer. The Birzeit parades didn’t have any floats, but there were plenty of goose-stepping, Hitler-saluting students carrying facsimiles (presumably) of bombs and rockets to thrill the student body.
The posters celebrating the May 2021 “Sword of Jerusalem” offensive (Hamas’s term for the 4,000 rockets it launched into Israel) didn’t show much creativity, but someone produced top-notch banners showing the likenesses of PFLP founders George Habash and Abu ‘Ali Mustafa, Hamas founder Ahmad Yasin, PLO chief Yasir Arafat, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shaqaqi (a Birzeit alum).
And, of course, there were flags aplenty — the green Hamas flag, the Palestinian battle flag, and the PFLP’s red and white flag.
The Birzeit parades had their own versions of marching bands, though MEMRI’s video shows they were really limited to a dozen or so students drumming frantically to be heard over the chants of, “Jihad! Jihad for the sake of Allah, Death for the sake of Allah.” It was the mock suicide vest-wearing future graduates of Birzeit’s department of self-immolation who ghoulishly screamed about the “body parts scattered” throughout Israel by those who went before them and how they too would “shed … their blood.”
The grand marshal of Hamas’s parade, at least in spirit, was “the Engineer” — Birzeit graduate Yahya Ayash, the chief bomb maker of Hamas and the leader of its Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Following the parade, masked Hamas fighters beat up campus security guards and broke into a campus auditorium to hold an impromptu rally at which a Hamas spokesman hailed Ayash as “the greatest among the men of Birzeit.”
What to make of these outrageous displays of barbarism? Since they happened on Doumani’s watch, he owns it. However, it occurred to me that perhaps Doumani is not only an ineffective administrator unable to take charge and control the university he purportedly leads; maybe he’s actually in trouble there. After all, it’s not unlike Hamas to hold hostages against their will. Furthermore, MEMRI reported that “university staff tried to seize the mock rockets, but without success.”
But then I saw in a report translated from Al-Quds al-Arabi describing Doumani’s acts after Israeli police forces put an end to the parades and the Hamas rally in the auditorium. It described “a sit-down … in front of the Faculty of Science” at which Doumani boldly raised the Palestinian flag, and condemned “the barbarism of the occupation.”
The Birzeit administration sought to de-escalate the violence among student groups, “due to its devastating effects on the university’s progress and its ability to achieve its goals.” Those goals, of course, are to train future generations of Palestinians to fight Israel, not each other.
So apparently Beshara Doumani will simply preside for two years as a convenient American figurehead from the great Brown University, making excuses for the terrorists and their student protégés who run Terrorist University while he burnishes his reputation as part of the academic resistance. His first semester at Birzeit is an oozing canker sore on the reputation of the Ivy League school.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Middle East Forum