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LONDON: The Palestinian-British surgeon Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta has been elected rector of the University of Glasgow, winning an overwhelming 80 percent of the vote following a campaign that resonated deeply with students.

In early October, at the start of Israel’s military assault on Gaza, Abu Sitta spent 43 days treating patients at Al-Ahli and Al-Shifa hospitals in the enclave.

Global audiences were shocked and inspired to discover that as well as being an award-winning plastic surgeon with a clinic in London’s famed Harley Street, Abu Sitta also had a long-standing career as a war surgeon in conflict areas including Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.

His campaign for rector, encapsulated by his slogan “A vote for me is a vote for solidarity with Palestine,” also highlighted the broader issues of university investments and their implications for human rights.

Abu Sitta told Arab News: “I was approached by a coalition of student organizations who felt that, by virtue of the fact that I’m an alumnus, it would be beneficial for me to run for rector as a kind of rallying platform.

“It was critical that we use that (platform) to campaign against not just the war in Gaza but also the role of universities as owners of shares in (British defense contractor) BAE Systems.”

When he starts his new position on April 11, Abu Sitta will represent student interests to the management at Glasgow University. The first item on his agenda is to ask that the university divest its £1.5 million ($1.8 million) worth of shares in BAE Systems, which is reportedly the leading manufacturer of weapons supplied to Israel.

According to The Guardian, increased military spending, prompted by Israel’s war on Gaza and Russia’s war on Ukraine, propelled BAE Systems to record profits in 2023.

“On a moral level, it’s unacceptable for a university of higher education to make blood money from a genocide. As (shareholders in) BAE Systems, they have profited from this genocide,” Abu Sitta said.

“But also, from a risk point of view, these shares make Glasgow University complicit in the war crime of genocide,” he added.

This comes as hundreds of senior lawyers and judges, including three former Supreme Court justices, wrote a letter accusing the British government of violating international law by continuing to arm Israel.

Abu Sitta is also looking to set up a fund in memory of Dima Al-Haj, a Glasgow University alumna and WHO worker killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza, alongside her six-month-old baby. 

Additionally, he will advocate for the university to divest from the fossil fuel industry and to boycott Israeli academic institutions, citing their involvement in a “genocidal war.”

The role of rector at Glasgow University has been held by several prominent figures in the past, including anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela and Arthur Balfour, whose signature was on the British government’s declaration of support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine in 1917. 

Abu Sitta’s landslide victory not only signifies a shift in the university community towards solidarity with Palestine, but also reflects broader trends among younger generations.

“I think young people across Europe and North America, because they do not consume news from the mass media but actually get their own news from social media, have been free from the propaganda of these mainstream outlets and, therefore, have been at the forefront of the campaign against this war,” Abu Sitta said. 

He continued: “They hold out the best hope for us to change the narrative about Palestine, to change the narrative about what’s happening in the Middle East. So, from that point of view, it’s critical that we use every available option to highlight that.”