Institute of Law Opened at Birzeit University

Birzeit University kicked off the official opening of its Institute of Law this Tuesday, amidst a barrage of excited speeches, and an enthusiastic international crowd.

The panel discussion, and official ribbon-cutting ceremony were attended by a few hundred people, including representatives from the governments of France, Qatar, the British and American consulates, as well as several international journalists.

The Institute of Law (IOL) started in 1993 as the Birzeit University Law Center. Over the last five years, the IOL has grown to offer many services, including a Master of Laws program, and special legal seminars. The Institute also has the foremost public law library in the West Bank and Gaza. One important feature of this library is a database containing all legislation enacted in Palestine, dating back to the Ottoman period.

Speaking to a capacity crowd at the University's Kamal Nasser hall, Birzeit University President Dr Hanna Nasir expressed a great deal of optimism--both about the Institute, and the possibilities of a just future.

Nasir pointed to the Institute of Law as an "expression of the University's ability to deal with the practical, new situation, resulting from the entrance of the Palestinian Authority into Palestinian Territory." He spoke of the importance of the Law Center's Legislative Assistance Unit--a cooperative effort with the Palestinian Ministry of Justice--and the accompanying joint effort to review existing legislation and set a new Palestinian legal precedent in the process. Paraphrasing Birzeit University Public Relations Director Albert Aghazarian, Nasir quipped that "The Law building is the highest building in the University, because there is nothing higher than the power of law." The BZU President used the themes of law and justice to give his opinions for the prospects for the future of Palestine: "Despite the disappointment we all face, because of the arrogant Israeli position--we are now in the 50th year of Al-Nakba, and we still live in catastrophe--but we hope this year, we will have a historic peace agreement; which guarantees land to its owners…and that comprehensive peace prevails--which is the basic demand of all in the region. Peace stands upon justice, equality, and democracy. "

He also showed no lack of gratitude for the Institute's principle funders, the governments of Qatar and France. He praised the latter--the government of which had the day before presented Institute Director Camile Monsour with an award for his efforts--as being a "political friend to the Palestinians." He also thanked Qatar, the European Union, and the British Government.

The Palestinian Minister of Justice, Frieh Abu Mediene followed Nasir at the podium, but radically diverted from the tone set by the President. Picking up op Nasir's point about a peaceful future, Mediene expressed grave doubt about the likelihood of a just settlement. "What is going on now has to be seen as a conflict--and not negotiations--because there is no good will…The Palestinians will keep resisting, as long as it is necessary to exert our rights."

Mediene was quick to mention that he was speaking from opinion, and not for his office, and also that he still supported Yasser Arafat.

Another speaker, French Minister of Justice, Elisabeth Guigou told the audience that she was "deeply moved" by the occasion, and hailed the Institute's "important role in building a jurisdictional and political framework in Palestine."

Other members of the panel were Birzeit University Council Chairman Dr Darwish Nazzal, and Ahmad Al-Subei'l, the Minister of Water and Electricity of Qatar. Subei'l expressed the "Affection of Prince Mohammed Ben Khalife al-Thani [in the name of whom a large donation to the Institute was made] towards the Palestinian people." He also applauded the mission of BZU, which "serves the Arab nation as a whole."