Interview with Dr. Carmella Armanos-Omari, V.P. of Administration and Finance at Birzeit University

Birzeit News spoke to Dr. Carmella Armanos-Omari, Vice President of Administration and Finance at Birzeit University about the events of last week and the release of the students from detention.

AH: Yesterday you visited the students in prison in Jericho before their release, can you tell us about your visit? Myself and Abdul Kareem Barghouti[Dean of Student Affairs] visited the students in Jericho - 8 students in the Preventive Security Services prison and 14 in the General Security Services. There were many delegations visiting and we spent an hour with both groups. We saw all the students and they were very pleased to see someone from the university administration and all appeared in good condition. We asked them how they were treated in prison and they stated that on the first day of their arrest they received harsh treatment but had been treated well following that. Several of the students had begun a hunger strike. We informed them of the events occuring at the university and expressed our hope that they would be released soon and that we hope to see them soon at the university. We returned to the universtiy at around 8:30pm and met with the students who asked questions about those in prison and how they were being treated. We stressed to them that we believed they would be released soon and that they should continue their tactics of calm diplomacy which the student movement had been employed since the beginning of this incident. At around 10pm I rang the Preventive Security and was informed that all students had been released and were on their way to Ramallah.

AH: What lessons can we draw from the events of the last week?CA: Firstly, the university was able to present a united stand against political detention and to protect the rights of those in prison to ensure they were treated according to the law. This was something from the whole university community - faculty, administration and students. The students themselves were united in one aim and were able to decide on measures that were calm although difficult. This certainly helped to control the situation. The university as a whole was able to campaign together and this was a very encouraging sign.

It also helped that all university bodies condemned the throwing of stones in the first place. This gave a great moral power to the non-violent actions carried out by the student movement for the release of all the students.

We take the issue of the entry of the security forces onto campus very seriously and will work very hard to ensure that the agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education which states the security forces are not permitted to enter the campus grounds is complied with.

AH: And what is now planned for the university? CA: We hope that classes will resume very soon - unfortunately we have lost 7 working days because of this. Although the file is now closed we also will continue discussions between teachers, students and administration about these incidents and particularly concerning the entry of the security forces onto campus. The university council will continue to meet and discuss follow-up based on the university bylaws. We will work in every way possible to ensure that the university preserves its tradition of freedom of speech, non-violence and protection of the rights of all to express their opinions.