'West Bank U' a hot button
Demonstration and responses at College of Judea and Samaria in West Bank show government decision to upgrade school to university status not going down easily. 'How dare they establish a university in occupied territory?' says protester. 'We'll keep teaching,' college official responds
ARIEL - Plans to upgrade the College of Judea and Samaria in this West Bank community into a university continue to spark controversy, with a protest and counter-response from college and Ariel officials.
About 50 students, lecturers, and left-wing activists
blocked the college's entrance Wednesday morning, but dozens of police officers dispatched to the area quickly dispersed the protesters.The decision to turn the college into a university was taken this week along with the decision to establish a new university in the northern Galilee. However, the decision regarding the Ariel school promptly drew criticism, because the institute is located in a West Bank community.
'This is illegal'
Demonstrators at the scene Wednesday slammed the government's decision.
"How dare they establish a university in occupied territory 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) away from the spot where a soldier was killed this week?" said Eric Diament, one of the protest organizers.
"The idea to establish a university in the heart of occupied territory, which necessitates a huge number of soldiers (to protect it) is a dangerous messianic fantasy," he said.
Diament said that protesters are not "vandals" even though they blocked access roads to the college.
"We have a message of saving lives and not disrupting lives," he said. "We want to open the public's eyes."
Another participant at the protest was Anat Biletzky, Tel Aviv University Philosophy Department chairwoman.
"This is not a legitimate matter, but rather, an illegal one," she told Ynet. "Our presence there contradicts international law."
'Politicians under guise of protesters'
Meanwhile, Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman told Ynet the protesters should stop serving as a negative example.
"Those are in fact politicians under the guise of academicians," he said. "The moral corruption of academia in the world starts with such elements, and it's unfortunate Jews and Israelis take the lead."
College official Yigal Cohen-Orgad also dismissed the protesters and said the school, which accommodates both Jewish and Arabs students, "would continue to develop teaching and research activity and international scientific ties…with no regard for a tiny radical minority."
Palestinian officials have been critical of the decision since it was announced. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat said Tuesday the decision to establish a university in Ariel means that Israel insists to expand the settlements, which would threaten efforts to revive a meaningful peace process.
Peace Now leader Dror Etkes described the plan as another example of the government's intent to make it more difficult for Israel to leave the Ariel area, which is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Tel Aviv.
“This shows very clearly that the Sharon government is trying to do everything possible to annex the Ariel bloc,” Etkes told AFP.