The Consul-General’s car (centre) as it hastily left the university.
Earlier this week, the British Consul-General in the Palestinian territories was due to deliver a speech at a West Bank university to discuss, among other issues, relations between Palestine and Great Britain. A group of Palestinian students called this a “provocation” and confronted the diplomat with hostile slogans, forcing him to make a hasty getaway.
According to a consular official, Sir Vincent Fean had been invited by officials from the University of Bir Zeit, a small town 25 kilometres north of Jerusalem, to speak to students on Tuesday about British foreign policy in the region and the possibility of peace with Israel.
Around a hundred students began demonstrating as soon as he arrived on campus. Shortly afterwards, the Consul’s car left amid jeers from protesters waving Palestinian flags. As it drove away, the protesters shouted and attacked the car, breaking a side mirror and holding portraits of Samer Issawi, a Palestinian prisoner currently on a hunger strike, against the car windows.
After the incident, the Consulate said Sir Fean wanted “to underline Britain’s deep commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state, and the urgency of progress on the peace process in 2013. Sadly, such a dialogue was not possible on this occasion… [but the Consul-General] hopes to have the opportunity to pursue this dialogue in future.”
When contacted by FRANCE 24, the university’s vice president, Dr. Bassam Al-Khatib, said he understood the students’ position, but regretted that they didn’t express their views during the debate instead.
The protesters chanted: “Leave Bir Zeit!”, and even “I am a refugee because of Balfour”, in reference to the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which Great Britain supported the establishment in Palestine of a “national home” for Jewish people.
“We believe Great Britain is responsible for everything that Palestinian people endure today”
Taha Al-Afghani is a representative of the Youth Student Movement, which has ties to Fatah.
The British Consul-General was supposed to give a conference at the University of Bir Zeit on political relations between Great Britain and Palestine. Our movement believes the theme of this conference was provocative because we consider that Britain has always opposed Palestinian interests. It was Great Britain that was in favour of the creation of a “Jewish home” in Palestine in 1917 [via the Balfour declaration]. They also occupied our territory until 1948 [the British mandate in Palestine lasted from 1920 to 1948]. Finally, Great Britain doesn’t support the creation of a Palestinian state either since it abstained from a vote on it at the United Nations [In November 2012, Palestine obtained “observer state” status following a vote. At the time, the United Kingdom opted to instead call on Palestinians and Israelis to reopen peace negotiations]. For us, this country is responsible for all the problems that the Palestinian people endure today.At the beginning, we weren’t planning on chasing the Consul-General out, but only to protest peacefully. During the conference, we planned to stand up and hold up signs with slogans - written in English - that were hostile towards the United Kingdom. We also wanted to denounce the university’s administration for being unpatriotic for inviting the Consul-General.“The fact that Great Britain helps the university financially doesn’t mean it can buy our silence”But the university’s president came out and said that those who accuse the administration of lacking patriotism are themselves unpatriotic. [According to the university’s vice president, the president merely told the students that they were no more Palestinian than the university officials who invited the Consul-General]. We then decided to chase the Consul-General out of the university. [According to the university’s vice president, not all of the students agreed with the decision].Great Britain helps our university financially, allowing students to receive scholarships for Masters and doctoral studies. But if they think they can buy our silence with these grants, they are wrong. What the Palestinians need today is not money, but a recognition of their state and their rights.