A young Palestinian woman who lectures science courses at Bir Zeit university still shudders when she recalls that as she was trying to introduce Darwin's theory of evolution in her class a few months ago she was surrounded by 10 bearded, angry students who loudly branded her an "enemy of God."
At Najah University in Nablus, Mohammed Hassan Suwalha, a young lecturer active in the Palestinian nationalist movement on campus and opposed by fundamentalists, fled in terror from an angry mob during a student riot on Jan. 9 and was either pushed or forced to jump from a third floor window of a university building. He is still hospitalized.
At the Hebron Polytechnic Institute, several students were beaten when they tore down a poster denouncing the fundamentalist Moslem Brotherhood at Najah University. And in the Gaza Strip, Moslem fundamentalists at Azhar Islamic University routinely taunt Palestinian women who pass by the campus wearing tight designer jeans and stylish Western dresses.
While the advent of Islamic revivalism modeled after that popularized by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is not a new phenomenon to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip or even to predominantly Arab enclaves within Israel proper, it recently has begun to grow larger than ever on the campuses of Arab universities. The growth has come even though Moslems in the area belong to the Sunni sect rather than the Shiite sect that Khomeini leads.
At the same time, it is taking a sharper edge, challenging the once unquestioned dominance of the Marxist-oriented Palestinian nationalism on campus and giving rise to concern by university officials and Israeli occupation authorities alike. The movement generally has been confined to the campuses, but the schools traditionally have reflected the center of Palestinian nationalism and a base for Palestinian intellectuals.
At Bir Zeit, the West Bank's second largest university and long regarded by Israeli security officials as a hotbed of militant Palestinian nationalism, fundamentalist Moslem students last year carried more than 42 percent of the vote in balloting for the leadership of the 1,800-member student body, and there are indications that the Islamic bloc will control the student council after May elections. In 1978, the Moslem Brotherhood was not a factor in the student council election.
Islamic fundamentalists now control the student council at Najah, the largest West Bank university, and at Azhar university, and have made inroads in controlling curriculum, dress and behavior in accordance with the teachings of the Koran. Posters condemning "corrupt" Western behavior and such "enemies" of Islam as communism and secularism are abundant.
"Islam is a comprehensive way of life. It is not just praying and fasting when required. It is living the religion every minute of your life," Samir Namir, 21, leader of the Moslem Brotherhood movement at Bir Zeit University, said in an interview.
Namir, who lives in a refugee camp near Nablus, said he believes that secularism and nationalism have failed the Palestinian people.
"Why follow the bankruptcy of other ideologies of the past 100 years in trying to find a solution for Arab problems?" asked Namir.
He added, "We tried the fiasco of liberalism in 1948, and we lost half of Palestine. We tried socialist-constitutionalism in 1967, and we lost the rest of Palestine. We need to be more doctrinaire if Israel is to be overthrown; we need an Islamic state founded on the principles of the Koran."
When asked where the Palestine Liberation Organization fits into his plans, Namir was silent for a few moments and then replied, "I have to be very careful. We are with the people who have adopted Islam. We never commit ourselves to any organization that has not adopted Islam. My commitment is to God and Islam, not to the communists or any other party."
Severe strains between the fundamentalists and West Bank and Gaza Strip secular nationalists have plagued the movement, however, since students at Azhar Islamic University and other fundamentalists--apparently spurred by the successes of Khomeini's revolution in Iran--two years ago burned down the offices of the Red Crescent Society, a center of leftist nationalism in the Gaza Strip. The incident sparked a series of vengence murders in the strip, and fundamentalists burned a movie theater and several restaurants that sold liquor.
Albert Aghazarian, a vice president at Bir Zeit, characterized the Islamic revivalism on campus as "a wave, a tempest that could get violent. But as a system, it has no viability that could sustain itself for very long."
Most of the Moslem Brotherhood followers, Aghazarian said, come from large, poor families in which they have been favored as the "family ideal" because of their piousness and their commitment to their studies.
"Someone like this comes to Bir Zeit, and he's crushed. He's just another student. Maybe he can't cope with the coeducational system and Westernized women who come from a higher social status. So there is this alienation, and suddenly he hears some other students saying, allah akbar God is great and he's found his home," Aghazarian said.
However, some militant Palestinian nationalists see a conspiracy behind the revivalist movement.
Ibrahim Karaeem, a Ramallah journalist and outspoken nationalist, said, "I see the hand of the Israelis in this, to divide the nationalist movement and divert the struggle away from the occupation to a struggle within the nationalist movement."
Karaeem, whose suspicions were echoed by some faculty members at Bir Zeit, said that three busloads of fundamentalists arrived at the Bir Zeit campus last month for a demonstration in buses had to have passed through Israeli Army roadblocks.
"Can you imagine three busloads of Palestinians driving from Gaza to Bir Zeit for a demonstration without being stopped?" Karaeem asked.
He added, "The Israelis are expert at the tactic of divide and rule. They know what they are doing."
Other Palestinians said they suspect that the Moslem Brotherhood, which was active when the West Bank was controlled by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, is receiving financial backing from Amman in an effort by King Hussein to dilute the influence of the PLO in the West Bank.
"Hussein still has designs on the West Bank. It would serve his purposes to divide the nationalist movement here," said a West Bank PLO supporter who has been close to the Bir Zeit situation.
But in their hostility to Israelis, the Islamic fundamentalists do not differ from the secular PLO supporters, and in fact they extend it often to the teachings of Islam. Pamphlets printed by the campus fundamentalists note that the Koran predicted the creation of the Jewish state and its destruction by Moslems.
Fundamentalist students leaders say that when Israel occupied the West Bank 14 years ago and began integrating the Arab economy into its own, it brought in numbers symbols of Western "decadence," including movie theaters and the sale of liquor. Moreover, they say, the approximately 8,000 West Bank Arabs who travel to Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities to work each day have been tainted by Western culture.
More likely, some observers of the Islamic phenomena say, is that the students have been influenced by a combination of genuine religious revivalism and increasing despair about what seems to them to be an endless occupation.
"The establishments of Arab society have failed to deliver any kind of ideal or solution to young people's problems: prosperty, political satisfaction with regard to the Israeli occupation, or a feeling of self-fulfillment. They have turned to religion as a core of political expression, just as the Iranians have done," said Aghazarian.
For their part, the occupation authorities seem to be ambivalent about the Islamic resurgence in the campuses, and, for the moment, are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
On one hand, they acknowledge that the divisions in the radical nationalist movement would, on the surface, seem to benefit the short-term interests of the occupation government. But at the same time, there is uncertainty among the Israelis over the possible effects on security of an uncontrolled movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for an Islamic state that predictably would be as hostile to Israel as the radical nationalist movement.