Friday, February 21, 2020

Palestinian student voices suppressed on Hebrew University campus

By Claire Matsunami - May 02, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [students]

Majd Hamdan is one of three Palestinian students arrested during an on-campus demonstration at Hebrew University in Jerusalem on 29 April. Students organized against attempts by the Israeli army to recruite Arab Christians | Photo by Omar Abdelqader

On Tuesday 29 April, three students were arrested at an on-campus demonstration at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Students gathered in Hebrew University’s main forum to protest new measures introduced by the Israeli army that will encourage Palestinian Christians to join the armed forces.  

Campus security arrived as the demonstration began and attempted to disperse the protesters. When scuffles erupted between demonstrators and security, the police were called and demonstrators were held until the police arrived. Hala Marshood, one of the student demonstrators, described the events to the Palestine Monitor: “When the police came they were very violent, pushing us very hard—some people were pushed to the ground—and beating us.  The three people they arrested they forced to the ground.” 

Police arrested Khalil Gharra, Majd Hamdan and Farah Bayadsi, all prominent activists on campus.  All three were released later that day.  

These arrests come as part of increasing suppression of freedom of speech on university campuses throughout Israel. A recent Land Day lecture was canceled at Tel Aviv University, and Palestinian student political groups at Hebrew University have been encountering increasing problems in recent months. Security is getting more aggressive, and four arrests were made in February at a demonstration off campus. 

“The way that the university is treating us is escalating, we used to practice on campus and only had a few issues,” Omar Abdelqader, another student demonstrator, told Palestine Monitor. Hala Marshood described this as evidence of the school’s “oppression of Arab students, especially when they are protesting against recruitment…They are afraid of our voices.”

This is the first time in more than 10 years that a student has been arrested on a University campus. While technically legal, the university has historically refrained from bringing the police on campus. Marshood says that the fact that this event is what prompted them to do so “proves the university is part of the Israeli occupation state.”  

The day after the arrests, another demonstration was held in response. Student demonstrators gathered with signs displaying messages such as “arrests will not deter us.” Knesset members Jamal Zahalka of the Balad party and Mohammad Barakeh of the Hadash party were in attendance. It didn’t take long for arguments to erupt between demonstrators and campus security. 

Abdelqader points out that a conflict arises at almost every demonstration by Palestinian students these days. In comparison, he noted, Zionist groups on campus do not encounter the same degree of interference. In fact, Abdelqader argues they are generally supported by campus security, and that they are allowed considerably more freedom to gather and voice their opinions. He feels that the recent arrests are bringing public attention to the ongoing suppression of student voices, particularly the voices of Palestinians and left-wing Jews. “I think it's a blessing in disguise because it shows the university’s true agenda; they have a racist Zionist agenda,” he said. 

Abdelqader expressed particular frustration at the fact that the arrested took place on a university campus: “Academia is a place where you should be able to express thoughts and opinions. Israel defines itself as a democratic, liberal state where voices are heard. But if this sort of thing is happening, how can you say that?”

It is worth noting that the official constitution of Hebrew University specifically denotes that it “shall be open to any person regardless of race, sex, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” 

Abdelqader stressed that demonstrators are not afraid of arrests, and will not let attempts by the University to stop them succeed. “Their intimidation factors are becoming cliché. Arrest is a minor price to pay when you resist,” he said. “Regardless of what they do, we’re going to keep going.” 


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