Amid their parents’ cheers, graduates marched to the stage in green uniforms while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stood to honor them. In the official ceremony, also attended by foreign diplomats, President Abbas called upon the graduates to protect the state of law and the security of the citizens.
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Palestinian graduates face an often-dire economic situation in the West Bank, where finding jobs is a difficult mission. In August 2012, Abbas issued a decree banning new hiring and promotions in the public sector as a result of the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal hardship.
But the newly graduated officers will not have the same challenge.
Next month, all 112 of them will join different sectors of the Palestinian security forces, following a decree from Abbas. They will each be under a one-year, paid trial period, according to the law.
“No student’s future is more guaranteed than our university students’,” Kamal Salameh, the school’s deputy president, told The Media Line, explaining that their jobs fall under the natural needs of the security forces, whose Organization and Management unit asked for 350 graduates to be enlisted in 2013.
Economists regularly criticize the Palestinian government for spending a large portion - somewhere between 32 and 40 percent - of its budget on security.
“The university gave me a chance to improve my life,” a 22-year-old female graduate who didn’t wish to be identified told The Media Line. “My parents are divorced and this was the only opportunity for me to be educated and change my future.”
During the students’ four years of studying, the university pays all tuition, housing, medical care, food and clothes. A cost that is estimated at $50,000, the full scholarship is usually paid for with the donations that come to the university.
Men and women are not allowed in the program if they are engaged or married, and they have to make it through 45 days of strict military camp before they are accepted.
Once enrolled, students sleep at the university’s dorms and have a chance to visit their families only during weekends.
Teachers at the academy are either experienced Palestinian security officials or retired intelligence and criminal investigation experts from Poland and Jordan.
Women are encouraged to apply since there’s a need for women security officers. Female students’ families were hesitant at first, but now more women are enrolling, says Tayseer Abdullah, the university’s president.
Among the first 112 graduates were 30 women, but the next group beginning now has almost equal numbers of male and female students.
Abdullah said that the university purposely overlooked some of its standards in the past when it came to female recruits. Now that they are receiving more applications from women, administrators are accepting only those fit for the school, which offers a unified curriculum for all of its students.
An estimated 4 percent of government security personnel in the West Bank are women, most of them in the police force.
“We are not satisfied with this percentage, but we take comfort in knowing that some of the women are high-ranking in the police,” Adnan Damiri, the spokesperson of the security forces, told The Media Line, explaining that it took time to convince Palestinian society of the need.
Hiba Saad, a student from the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, said her family was an important support for her during the past four years.
“I will be deployed in a unit that I will not disclose but I am very excited to start working,” she said.
“The university gave her more confidence and strengthened her personality,” her father, Mohammed, told The Media Line. “I wish that I myself was able to study like her.”
Six female students fainted during the graduation ceremony and were treated on the spot.
“We had long and extensive trainings for our graduation which made some of my colleagues tired,” Saad said.
Having a family member in the security institution is another factor driving more women to apply. An anonymous mother told The Media Line that her husband, who works in the forces, encouraged her daughter to pursue the field.
“She might be deployed at her father’s station,” she said.
Two female graduates were among the top six students in the class.
The academy has come a long way. Started by Tawfiq Tirawi, the head of Palestinian intelligence at the time, building of the university began in 1998 but was frozen due to the second Palestinian uprising of 2000. In 2007, the university was formally registered in the Ministry of Education as a public university.
When the Palestinian Authority was established in the 1993, Palestinian ex-detainees and revolutionary leaders from the 1980s were absorbed into the security institution. Independence University aims to refresh the security apparatus with new blood.
Changing technology has also increased the need for a younger, educated generation of officers.
As the first such academy in the Palestinian Territories, Independence University’s course-based curriculum combines security studies, field trainings and academic requirements comparable to other universities.
Out of the 112 graduates, 57 received security science degrees and 55 students graduated with specialization in information systems management. Abdullah, the head of the academy, said that university now offers a number of diplomas, including six different Bachelors of Arts for security-related specializations.
“With all respect to our past, we’re now building a state of institutions where we have specialized officers,” Salameh, the school’s deputy president, said. “Experience is important and we value the sacrifices of the previous generation, but I am sure they will be happy to see us moving forward into having educated officers in the system.”
Article by Diana Atallah
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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