Harvard to run course on ‘settler colonialism’ at Palestinian university that glorified ‘martyrs’ after October 7

Birzeit University in the West Bank counts terrorists among its alumni


Palestinian students supporting the Islamic Hamas movement wave the movement's flag as they celebrate a victory in student elections at Birzeit University on the outskirts of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on May 19, 2022. - Hamas's Al Wafaa Islamic bloc won 28 of the 51 seats on the student council at Birzeit University, marking the first time Islamist-aligned candidates have gained control of the body. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP) (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

Harvard is running a summer programme on “settler colonialism” and “health and racism” at a Palestinian West Bank university which counts terrorists among its alumni and many of whose students have open affiliations to Hamas.

The second annual Palestine Social Medicine Course will take place at Birzeit University, an institution that glorified “martyrs” three days after Hamas’ October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians.

Birzeit’s alumni include Fathi Shaqaqi, founder of terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi, who helped bomb an Israeli pizza shop in 2001.

The programme, hosted in collaboration by Harvard’s FXB Centre and the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University, is a three-week intensive summer course where students will learn “the social, structural, political, and historical aspects that determine Palestinian health beyond the biological basis of disease”.

Core topics include “settler colonialism and its manifestations in Palestine” and “health and racism”, according to the programme’s website.

Harvard has already faced criticism for its administration's tepid response to unbridled antisemitism on campus after the October 7 attacks. University president Claudine Gay resigned recently in the wake of a furore over her refusal to say whether or not calling for the genocide of Jews constituted a breach of university rules.

The Ivy League institution’s association with Birzeit University seems unlikely to repair its reputation.

Birzeit’s student body voted in May for the Hamas-linked Al Wafaa Islamic bloc to lead their student government for the second year in a row, a victory which was praised by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh according to the Middle East Monitor.

During a raid in September, Israeli forces arrested student council president Abdulmajid Hassan along with seven other students on suspicion of planning a terror attack, an allegation to which officials said several of the students confessed, according to the Times of Israel.

In 2022, Jerusalem Post reported that a group of student activists at Birzeit were arrested for participating in a scheme to smuggle money from Gaza to Hamas officials in Turkey.

Harvard began its affiliation with the Palestinian university last summer when the Palestine Social Medicine Course was initiated.

The five core faculty members for the programme - Bram Wispelwey, Osama Tannous, Weeam Hammoudeh, Yara Asi, and David Mills - have co-authored numerous academic articles on settler colonialism and Palestinian health, and each faculty member is an affiliate of Harvard’s FXB Centre for Health and Human Rights.

Stephanie Simon, Harvard’s Dean for Communications and Strategic Initiatives, told the JC that Birzeit University is a “public institution governed by an autonomous Board of Trustees with no political, religious, or sectarian affiliation,” and its Institute of Community and Public health “examines the same important questions about health inequities that interest the FXB Centre”.

Simon said that “leadership at Harvard Chan School and the FXB Center unequivocally condemn Hamas’s brutal attacks on Israel and its taking of hostages”, but that the programme in Palestine “fits squarely within the centre’s mission to promote equity, dignity, and well-being for people around the world.”

“The programme has two primary goals: To contribute to the improvement of Palestinian health through rigorous research and scholarship and to build capacity among the next generation of public health and medical practitioners through education and training, including the summer course you referenced, which is co-developed with and co-funded by the World Health Organisation.”

In reference to the Hamas-affiliated student council bloc that was elected by the student body, Simon added: “These student government elections are not germane to and have not affected the FXB Centre’s work with the scholars and students at Birzeit’s Institute of Community and Public Health.”

Still, Simon noted that “the FXB Centre and Harvard will continue to regularly evaluate the collaboration with Birzeit.”

Birzeit University has been contacted for comment.

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