By Arvind Padmanabhan
Ramallah (Palestine): A sudden congregation of hundreds of angry students at Al-Quds University near here to condemn alleged aggression of Israeli forces, led to cancellation of an event that was to be attended by President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday.
The protest at the varsity at Abu Dees, some 25 km from here, was against the alleged killing of some students by Israeli forces in Jerusalem. The agitators not only wanted the president, who was at the campus at that time, to hear their voices and act, but also questioned as to why India was warming up to their “enemy” — the Israelis.
“India, why are you cooperating with the occupiers?” read one placard referring to Israel. Another read: “Mr. President, we want you to hear our voices and concerns.” And yet another in Arabic said: “Indian President, don’t remain silent against the butchers who are slaying Palestinians.”
The president, who was conferred an honorary doctorate in philosophy by the Al-Quds university, was to leave for Jerusalem — for the final leg of his six-day, three-nation visit that had earlier taken him to Amman in Jordan — after inaugurating the Jawaharlal Nehru Secondary School for Boys at around noon.
But sensing trouble, he was immediately taken away by Indian officials from the site for Jerusalem. Though largely peaceful, the students were later shouting anti-Israel slogans and also burnt some tires, raising billows of smoke in the air.
During the events at the campus, Mukherjee also inaugurated an Indo-Palestine Centre for Excellence in ICT, gifted 30 computers and announced an India chair. He said the centre will have a satellite facility in Ramallah and that India will build a similar institution in Gaza as well.
During the 30-minute event, the president also sought to send out a political message to the people of Palestine.
He said India’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and its principled support to their cause was rooted in his country’s our own freedom struggle.
“India has always been at the forefront in promoting the Palestinian cause – India voted against the partition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly in 1947,” he said.
“We recognized the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. India as also the first non-Arab country to recognize the State of Palestine in 1988.”
He said the cooperation between the two countries extended to other areas as well.
“India has always been happy to partner Palestine in promoting education. Over the years, around 12,000 Palestinian students have graduated from Indian universities, many of them on scholarships offered by the Government of India,” the president said.
“Today, these students serve as a bridge between our two countries.”
The president also said under the India Technical and Economic Cooperation, 760 Palestine nationals had been trained and announced that the annual slots under the programme were being doubled to 100.
Those at the event included Palestine Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Education Minister Sabri Saidam and Al-Quds University president Imad Abu Kishek.