The Harvard College Dean’s Office rejected a request Monday from the student group Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) to fly the Palestinian flag in front of the Science Center commemorating the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
“We were going to fly the Palestinian flag at half mast in the Science Center yard both to commemorate [Arafat] and as a symbol of awareness of what is going on in Palestine,” said Erol N. Gulay ’05, who founded the group in 2002 and was in charge of organizing the event.
The dean’s office, however, rejected their request on two points of policy. “University policy only permits flying of flags of recognized countries,” the dean’s office told the group in an e-mail.
In addition, the e-mail continued, PSC was not a recognized student organization at the time of the request, though the group has since registered with the College.
According to the University marshal’s office, much of the University follows the office’s protocol and fly only flags of countries on the list of independent states recognized by the U.S. State Department.
“It’s a bizarre rule to have in your books,” Gulay said. “When I forwarded the e-mail to the group, people responded expressing disappointment and confusion as to why there is such a University policy,” he said.
“We abide by the state and what countries are recognized by it,” said Jacqueline O’Neill, University marshal. “Once we go beyond the definition, it’s a slippery slope; it is very hard to discern where to say yes and no,” she said.
The Kennedy School had consulted the marshal’s office in its decision to prohibit a student from carrying a Palestinian flag at the school’s 25th anniversary celebration last year, but the marshal’s office has not been contacted specifically regarding this week’s request.
The Kennedy School’s decision last year resulted in a petition to the dean in which 112 students said permitting the flag’s dispaly would symbolize the school’s diversity and its commitment to peace in the Middle East.
“It’s not an uncommon request, and it’s the University’s policy not to fly flags of unrecognized countries,” said Science Center Director Dean R. Gallant.
The members of PSC, however, say they are upset and disappointed at the administration’s decision. “It doesn’t seem necessary for the University to follow State Department regulations, especially when Harvard has no connection to the State Department,” Gulay said.
“Palestine is going through a struggle to reach recognition, which requires symbolic acts such as flying the flag. By disallowing the flying of the flag, the University seems like it is trying to shut down any discourse,” he added.
Mohammed J. Herzallah ’07, co-chair of PSC, said Palestinian students are hoping to meet with the dean to discuss the issue.
“Other students celebrate their nations by raising their flags on campus, and Palestinian students should be able to do so, too,” he said. If the administration does not reconsider it stance, he continued, Palestinian students would consider organizing a petition in protest.
“Allowing the raising of the flag is the most dramatic thing that Harvard can do on its part about the Palestinian situation,” Herzallah added.