July 12, 2012
The National Post
By Michael Higgins
The UN cultural agency was accused Thursday of endorsing a Gaza university that Israel calls a breeding ground for Hamas terrorists.
On Wednesday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established a chair in astronomy, astrophysics and space sciences at the controversial Islamic University in Gaza (IUG).
The decision shocked Israel, which bombed a wing of the university during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 because it said laboratories were being used to build bombs.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Israeli government said, “The Islamic University of Gaza is a known greenhouse and breeding ground for Hamas terrorists.
The university conducts lectures on Hamas’ radical ideology and concentrates on hostility to Israel, the statement added.
“Hamas uses Gaza University laboratories to develop and produce explosives and rockets and has even run a course on explosive making. The university is a warehouse for weapons and a venue for secret meetings of military leaders,” it said.
“UNESCO is now establishing a chair linked to a terror organization. That UNESCO should choose to establish a chair in such a university damages further UNESCO’s reputation and it creates uncomfortable and inappropriate bedfellows.”
Kamalain Shaath, the university head, defended the UN agency’s decision, telling Agence France-Presse, “The Islamic University is a purely academic university that is interested only in education and its development.”
However, the university has been at the centre of controversy and violence before.
The Palestinian Fatah movement, a rival of Hamas, attacked IUG in 2006 and 2007 using mortars and guns, and accused it of being a base for terrorists.
In 2007, a special Fatah force raided the university and confiscated about 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, hundreds of RPG launchers and ammunition.
They also discovered a tunnel leading to the Palestinian Police headquarters, leading to speculation Hamas intended to fill the tunnel with explosives and destroy the police building.
In 2007, the Israeli press reported kidnapped Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit was held in captivity at the university for months.
After Israel bombed IUG in December 2008, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees called for a ban on Israeli academics speaking, teaching or doing research work at the province’s universities.
A 2010 profile of IUG in the Boston Globe described it as a top educational establishment, but added, “At the same time, the university is something else again: the brain trust and engine room of Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza and has been a standard-bearer in the renaissance of radical Islamist militant politics across the Middle East.”
The university was a hotbed for refining the movement’s philosophy and helping extend its reach.
“Thinkers here generate the big ideas that have driven Hamas to power; they have written treatises on Islamic governance, warfare and justice that serve as the blueprints for the movement’s political and militant platforms,” it said.
“And the university’s goal is even more radical and ambitious than that of Hamas itself, an organization devoted primarily to war against Israel and the pursuit of political power. Its mission is to Islamicize society at every level, with a focus on Gaza but aspirations to influence the entire Islamic world.”
In May, Subhi Al-Yaziji, dean of Koranic studies at the university, called for the Islamic conquest of Spain and the Vatican.
“The conquest of Andalusia is an old dream, something Muslims proudly hope for and will continue to hope for in the future,” he said on comments aired on Al-Aqsa TV.
“We place our hopes in Allah and trust that the day will come when our triumph will not be restricted to Palestine. Our hopes go beyond that — to raise the banner of the Caliphate over the Vatican, the ‘Rome’ of today, in accordance with the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad: ‘Constantinople shall be conquered and then Rome.’ ”
In a move that angered both Israel and the United States, UNESCO granted the Palestinians membership last year.
Meanwhile, UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group, urged the U.S. and Europe to stop a bid by African nations to put Sudan on the UN Human Rights Council. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir on a charge of committing genocide in Darfur.
“Electing Sudan to the UN body mandated to promote and protect human rights worldwide is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women’s shelter,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, in a statement.