By Khaled Abu Toameh, December 11, 2003.
At Beir Zeit University’s student election, which focused on which party had
killed the most Israelis, Hamas swept to victory Wednesday, defeating Yasser
Arafat’s Fatah. The campaign at the campus near Ramallah featured exploding
models of Israeli buses and claims of prowess based on Israeli casualties.
In voting Wednesday, Hamas won 25 seats of the 51 on the council, Fatah
took 20, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – a radical PLO faction
– won five and the lesser-known People’s Party got the remaining seat.
In the last election, just before Palestinians started their armed uprising, Hamas
won with a two-seat margin over Fatah, emphasizing its armed struggle against
This time, Fatah focused on its military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades,
which has carried out dozens of attacks against Israelis. “Now we have our
struggle. We have the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades striking the occupation every
day,” said Fatah candidate Khaled Samara, a black-and-white headscarf like
Arafat’s wrapped around his neck.
During a two-day campaign, the parties debated, marched through
campus with war drums reminiscent of the Prophet Muhammad’s instrument
and waved party flags.
At a debate, the Hamas candidate asked the Fatah candidate: “Hamas activists
in this university killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit
The Fatah candidate refused to answer, suggesting his rival “look at the
paper, go to the archives and see for yourself. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades have
not stopped fighting the occupation.”
Fatah set up models of Jewish settlements and then blew them up with
fireworks. The display was meant to emphasize the group’s focus on attacking
settlers and their communities – considered by Palestinians to be one of the
most provocative elements of Israel’s occupation of territory they claim for a state.
Hamas countered by blowing up models of Israeli buses, a tribute to the dozens
of suicide bombings its members have carried out in the past three years, killing
hundreds of Israelis.
Activists straddled on their shoulders samples of the group’s homemade
Qassam rockets – often fired at Gaza Strip settlements and Israeli towns that
border the coastal area.
Student issues were barely touched on because the Palestinian’s main problem
is the Israeli occupation, candidates said.
Hamas said fighting Israel is the only issue. “We are a resistance
movement and without resistance we have nothing to do,” said Moussa
Kiswani, a prominent university Hamas activist.
The campaign was so focused on violent activities that officials at the university
– considered the most liberal of the Palestinian higher education institutions –
“We were worried … the atmosphere seems very dangerous,” said
Ludna Abdel Hadi, a university spokeswoman.
She said the student elections have wider significance. “The Bir Zeit
elections are like a barometer to measure the political mood on the Palestinian street.”
This is the sixth time over the past decade that the Islamic groups won the
most seats in student council elections at Bir Zeit University. Fatah’s Shabiba
won control of the student council twice.