Palestinian students are not only learning and expanding their knowledge as the next generation of Palestinians struggling for liberation – they are on the front lines of struggle against colonial imprisonment. There are approximately 250 Palestinian students held in Israeli jails, including approximately 80 from Bir Zeit University alone. Over the years, thousands of Palestinian university students have been targeted for arrest and persecution. Palestinian universities have been frequently raided by Israeli occupation forces; student organizations’ offices have been ransacked, their belongings confiscated and destroyed.
This new video highlights the situation of Palestinian student prisoners:
Student leaders have even been kidnapped in broad daylight on university campuses by disguised Israeli forces, called “mustaribeen,” and their homes have been invaded by occupation soldiers in violent night raids. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network expresses its strongest solidarity with imprisoned Palestinian students and urges all people of conscience to amplify the call for their immediate release.
The imprisonment of Palestinian students reflects only one part of the ongoing denial of Palestinians’ right to education by Israeli colonization. For example, Palestinian child prisoners often lose a full year of school and more due to the poor, insufficient or nonexistent education they receive behind bars. There are currently 200 Palestinian children in Israeli detention and over 700 are arrested and brought before military courts every year. Dozens of Palestinian schools are targeted for demolition due to a “lack of building permits” – because they are refused by the occupation – while Palestinian students in occupied Palestine ’48 are taught a curriculum that fundamentally denies their history and identity.
Palestinian universities have been forcibly converted into military areas as occupation forces take over and confiscate property for checkpoints, attacks on students or even military training. At the same time, propagandists for Israeli colonialism wage media attacks on Palestinian universities and education, attempting to defund and block international partnerships; even international professors hired by Palestinian universities are regularly denied entry to Palestine to teach their students. This cannot be delinked from the ongoing attempts to eradicate Palestinian culture, knowledge and history, from the bombing of the Palestine Research Center in Beirut in 1983 to the assassination of Palestinian writers, poets and scholars inside and outside Palestine – or, for that matter, from the ongoing attempts to defame, criminalize and suppress Palestinian and solidarity activism on campuses around the world, outside occupied Palestine.
Today, Palestinian students inside occupied Palestine are most frequently accused of “‘membership in’ and ‘provision of services to an unlawful association’ as defined by the 1945 (Defense) Emergency Regulations and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, which were both incorporated into Israel’s domestic laws,” as noted by Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Both were initially orders from the British colonial mandate over Palestine.
All major Palestinian political parties and many other social and political organizations have been declared “illegal organizations” by the Israeli military. As Addameer notes:
“Palestinian student unions have not escaped Israel’s efforts to criminalize every aspect of Palestinian civil, political and cultural life and many have also been declared illegal. In the event that a student union is not explicitly declared unlawful by a decision of the Israeli military commander or a government official exercising his or her authority under Regulation 84 of the 1945 Emergency Regulations, a Palestinian student union member may be arrested on the grounds of membership in an organization having broadly defined ‘ties’ with an unlawful organization. The nature of those ties is never of interest to the prosecution and hardly ever examined by the military judge. In consequence, attending a rally of an ‘unlawful association’ or an association ‘with ties’ to an ‘unlawful association’, putting up posters of such an association, writing, producing, printing and distributing publications related to the declared ‘unlawful association’ are all activities that are considered to ‘endanger the security of the state of Israel’, and are prosecuted as crimes under the banner of ‘hostile and terrorist activities’. In some cases, students were indicted with charges as unreasonable and far-fetched as ‘dancing Dabke’, a traditional Palestinian folkloric dance, at an event organized by a student union ‘with ties to an unlawful organization’, or attending a film screening at an ‘illegal rally’.
In this video, Samidoun’s international coordinator speaks at Israeli Apartheid Week in Cagliari, Sardinia, about the situation of imprisoned Palestinian students:
It must also be noted here that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly arrested and detained Palestinian students as political detainees, usually for their involvement in campus student activism. This detention reflects not only political repression on the part of the PA but also, fundamentally, its “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation, especially as many of the students arrested by the PA have previously been arrested by Israeli occupation forces – or are later seized by Zionist troops after their release from PA detention.
Palestinian student life is rich in its political diversity and expression. Every year, student council elections spark a vast amount of debate and political competition between all trends of the Palestinian movement as reflected among university students. This vibrant expression of a democratic political culture is routinely subjected to violent suppression by the Israeli occupation; the student election period is often marked by a sharp rise in raids and arrests at university campuses. The last several student council presidents elected in Bir Zeit University, such as Omar Kiswani and Yehya Rabie, have been seized by occupation forces and imprisoned for holding their positions.
Today, Shatha Hassan, the president of Bir Zeit’s Student Council Conference, is imprisoned without charge or trial under Israeli “administrative detention,” and her detention has already been renewed without presenting any evidence or allegations against her.
Nevertheless, Palestinian students – including many from the popular classes and the refugee camps – continue to play a leading role in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. They continue to organize and develop their student activism despite the incessant threat of Israeli attacks, imprisonment or even extrajudicial execution. Despite the fact that they could miss their graduation day or see a substantial delay or interruption to their academic careers and future professional life, they continue to struggle for a revolutionary, liberated Palestinian future. The student movement is also central to the campaigns inside Palestine for the liberation of Palestinian prisoners, marching, organizing and campaigning to free their imprisoned sisters and brothers.
Here are just a few of the cases of imprisoned Palestinian students and youth today:
Shatha Hassan, the president of the Student Council Conference at Bir Zeit University, was seized from her home in the Ain Misbah neighborhood of Ramallah on 12 December 2019, when armed occupation forces invaded her residence. She was shortly thereafter ordered to administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial. She is one of three woman and roughly 500 Palestinians in total – out of 5,000 Palestinian prisoners – who are currently jailed under this type of arbitrary detention, which can be indefinitely renewed by Israeli military order. Palestinians have spent years in administrative detention without ever being charged. The Committee of Concerned Scientists issued a letter urging her release.
Mays Abu Ghosh
Mays Abu Ghosh, a journalism student at Bir Zeit University and a student activist, was seized by occupation forces in a violent raid on 29 August 2019, when the armed soldiers removed the door of her family home and invaded it, ransacking her and her family’s belongings, blindfolding and cuffing her and then taking her to an occupation military camp near Qalandiya checkpoint.
While she was held there, the soldiers dragged her violently as she was handcuffed and blindfolded while cursing at her and screaming in her face. She was interrogated for over 30 days and subjected to severe torture and abuse. She is charged in the Israeli military courts – which convict over 99% of Palestinian detainees – with involvement in student activities on the Bir Zeit University campus.
Samah Jaradat was arrested by Israeli occupation forces three days after her graduation from Bir Zeit University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She was looking forward to continuing her higher education and dreams of becoming a professor at Bir Zeit herself. On 7 September 2019, she was seized from her family home and subjected to 22 days of harsh interrogation inside the Moskobiyeh detention center. A student activist and a close friend of Mays Abu Ghosh, Samah was strip-searched, held in isolation and deprived of sleep in an attempt to force her to confess. She was prohibited to see a lawyer for over 22 days and was questioned repeatedly about her student activism at the university after her interrogators failed to obtain a confession about anything else.
Israr Ma’arouf, 21, is a third-year law student at Bir Zeit University who was seized by occupation forces on 24 August 2019 and almost immediately ordered to four months in administrative detention. Shortly thereafter, on 7 September, they transferred him again to the Moskobiyeh interrogation center where he was subjected to torture and severe abuse during 70 days of interrogation. Israr was deliberately and systematically deprived of sleep, interrogated most of the day and then interrupted with loud music. He was threatened with the arrest of his family and forced into stress positions during his interrogation, forcing him to fall to the ground. He fainted several times while under interrogation due to the extreme pain he was in and was forced to use a wheelchair for several days during his interrogation because he was unable to walk due to his injuries from torture.
Tareq Matar, a student and youth leader, was planning to pursue his academic career further; he had been accepted to a Ph.D. program at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Instead, however, he was seized by Israeli occupation forces on 2 October 2019 and subjected to severe torture. A healthy, active young man, Tareq was pushed into Israeli military court in a wheelchair. This is the fifth time Tareq was arrested and imprisoned by occupation forces; he has been jailed multiple times without charge or trial under administrative detention. After he was seized in 2019, he was interrogated and tortured for over 30 days at the Moskobiyeh detention center, forced into stress positions such as “back-bending” that caused severe damage to his back and denied access to the toilet. His facial hair was pulled out from its roots by an Israeli interrogator. He was ordered to six months in administrative detention without charge or trial.
Ameer Hazboun, a fourth-year engineering student at Bir Zeit University, was seized by soldiers in his dormitory on 10 September 2019 as they invaded his room at 1:00 a.m. He was brutally kicked beaten by the soldiers with their guns while being transported to the Moskobiyeh interrogation center. He arrived at the center with bruises all over his body and informed the prison doctor that he has a platinum plate in his left hand for a previous injury. He was interrogated for weeks on end for 22 hours a day. Due to severe sleep deprivation, he would sometimes fall asleep during interrogation and was shaken awake by the interrogators. He was forced into multiple stress positions, including being forced to stand on his toes with his hands cuffed overhead to the wall, placing severe stress on his feet, arms and injured hand. He was eventually charged with being a member of the Qutub, the Democratic Student Progressive Pole at Bir Zeit – and “aiding an illegal organization” by distributing student election campaign flyers.
These are only six of the hundreds of cases of Palestinian students seized, tortured and imprisoned by the Israeli occupation – in addition to dozens more targeted for political detention under the Palestinian Authority’s “security coordination” with Israel. As the Right to Education campaign stated, “At a time when the entire world is suffering as a result of the outbreak of the pandemic, and governments are issuing regulations to save their people, the Israeli occupying forces continue their crimes against Palestinian prisoners, and our students, in particular.”