'Martyrs' adorn Neveh Dekalim college

Student: "Studying here is an achievement of the Palestinian liberation."

Nakba display 298.88 (photo credit: Rafael D. Frankel)
Nakba display 298.88
(photo credit: Rafael D. Frankel)
Posters of "martyrs" and photo exhibits of the Nakba adorn the walls, and signs in Arabic on their office doors identify the professors. Outside, Palestinian flags fly next to their yellow Fatah counterparts and the smell of new paint wafts in the air despite the sea breeze. Welcome to Al-Aksa University's Neveh Dekalim campus, where 600 male students have been taking classes since February in a renovated building once the largest boys school for Gush Katif settlers. "Of course" it is special to study here, said Sallam Muhammad Abu Abakar, 21, a psychology student. "We consider it an achievement of the Palestinian liberation and it [gives us] a lot of satisfaction." While terrorist groups have vied over the vacated settlements in the Gaza Strip since Israel's withdrawal, sometimes turning them into training camps, Al-Aksa has taken over perhaps the most valuable real estate Gush Katif had to offer. Despite the funding crisis currently besetting the Palestinian Authority, construction continues here as building crews renovate the former municipal building, gymnasium, shops and supermarket in Neveh Dekalim's central square to make room for the 7,000 students who will be studying here as of September. "Great amounts of money" are being spent on the project, Nasser Abu Il Ata, the university's vice president for public relations, said, refusing to give hard numbers. Al-Aksa's apparently deep pockets show, too. Brand new computer and science labs, complete with new desktop CPUs and Bunsen burners, await next semester's students on the second floor of the main building. On the first floor, a photo exhibit of Palestinian refugees and abandoned villages commemorates the Nakba, the "disaster," as they refer to Israel's creation. There is a diverse student body here as well - supporters of all the Palestinian factions attend classes. This they do mostly harmoniously, students said, although fistfights do break out, mirroring the ones by more heavily armed comrades playing out on the streets of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. Unlike their leaders who ran for seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, Fatah supporters won the student body elections, thus granting them the right to affix their yellow flags at regular intervals around school grounds. A full story on Al-Aksa University will appear in the Friday's Upfront.