President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday received a warm welcome at Al-Quds University, where he was called ‘’a valiant knight of peace” as part of the citation granting him a doctorate.
Welcoming Mukherjee, university president Imad Abu Kishek said, “The message is clear in the Indian President choosing to visit the only Palestinian university in the holy city of Jerusalem.”
In his speech, Mukherjee said, “Brand India is popular here and inspires trust… The government of India’s Make in India scheme welcomes all of you to manufacture in India.” Reiterating India’s support for the Palestinian cause, he said one of the aims of his visit was to suggest a framework for the future of the relationship between the two countries. “Peace and stability in the region is in India’s interest,” he said.
In their speeches, Prime Minister of Palestinian National Authority Rami Hamdallah and former PM Ahmed Qurei talked about the current crisis, and India’s long-standing support to their people.
Mukherjee announced that India had decided to increase the number of scholarships offered by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to 25 per annum. Apart from an India-Palestine Centre for Excellence in ICT, he also announced the setting up of an India chair at Al-Quds University.
While the President was also supposed to inaugurate the Jawaharlal Nehru Secondary School for Boys in Abu Dees, near the university, that event had to be cancelled due to the anticipation of protests. There was also a brief protest soon after the presidential cavalcade had left the university, with students carrying placards and shouting slogans saying, “Why is India cooperating with the enemy?”
LIFE BEYOND THE WALL
The wall separating the Israeli side from the Palestinian area in East Jerusalem stands just metres away at the Al-Quds University. It also means that the rest of Jerusalem, including al-Aqsa — over which tensions are at a new high — is out of reach.
“Everything is controlled by Israel,” says Farah (25), a fresh graduate. “For everything, we need special permits. Each checkpoint or wall could be a potential danger point,” she adds.
The wall itself is not a continuous structure though, rising in some parts and absent in another, reflecting the contiguous and confused history and geography of this land. From the Palestinian side, it is covered in graffiti, with Che sprouting up on every turn of the road.
PRESIDENT RUNS INTO PROTEST
The protesters at Al-Quds University, who swamp a road leading up to the auditorium where President Pranab Mukherjee just finished addressing the students and faculty, are raising slogans in the name of some students of the university killed allegedly by the Israelis.
“Why is India supporting the butchers?” asks one poster. “This is a daily part of our education,” says another. Just outside, as the media and presidential delegation is whisked away, dark, acrid smoke rises from a burnt tyre that some Palestinian students, who are still standing on top of the tall wall, have chucked on the other side.
The mirage of a functional Palestinian government lasts only till the outskirts of Ramallah, though.
Metres away from the university in East Jerusalem, villages, bound in parts by the wall, and increasingly bleaker, are like huge scrapyards, with discarded cars, washing machines, furniture and, for some reason, rows of treadmills.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
On both sides, questions to anyone if they have been on the other side, across the wall, are received with incredulity: “That is not allowed.”
The signboards in bold red, before checkpoints and forking of roads, try to mark out the boundaries. Depending on which side you are reading it from, the message is unambiguous.
“This road leads to a Palestinian village. The entry of Israeli citizens is dangerous,” warns one at the checkpoint right before Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.-Shalini Langer