Saturday, October 24, 2020

Al-Quds, a university caught in more than just a media war

By Jan Walraven - February 17, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Abu Dis]

Israeli border police arresting a student during a raid on the Al-Quds University.
On a regular Tuesday afternoon, students are sprawled across the courtyard of Abu Dis, the main campus of the Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, checking their smartphones, enjoying tea or coffee, chatting and laughing. Some of them are hurrying to get to the right lecture on time, but most  are outside, enjoying the warm spring sun next to one of the several fountains.
Three weeks ago, the same campus bore witness to an entirely different scene. On 22 January dozens of Israeli Border Police officers in armoured cars closed off the main entrance to the university and began checking students’ identity cards. Some of the policemen started throwing tear gas bombs into the campus, causing damage to buildings and injuring students. Others entered the campus grounds in full gear, carrying their weapons and firing several rounds of rubber bullets.
Clashes quickly ensued between members of the student body and the Israeli Border Police. Students and staff were stuck inside the buildings for over five hours. Estimates on the number of injured differ, but according to the University, 438 people suffered from injuries from tear gas or rubber bullets and at least 40 students had to be treated outside the campus.
”Some people started throwing stones at police officers that were in the area of the university. Upon that, the police decided to disperse the rioters and to enter the campus grounds to arrest suspects that were present at the time,” said a spokesperson for the Israeli Border Police when asked by the Palestine Monitor to specify the reason of the attack.
The spokesperson did not specify what these people were suspected of.
“It was terrifying”
On 11 February, the Palestine Monitor talked to Alaa Sbitan and Manar Hassan, both English students, currently in their third year and present on campus during the raid. Alaa said she was stuck for four hours in one of the buildings because of the tear gas. “It was terrifying,” both girls agree. “The policemen just get bored and then they come here to intimidate us,” explained Manar.
In January 2014 alone, the Abu Dis campus has been the subject of three attacks by armed Israeli forces, while in 2013 there were 26 attacks, according to information provided by the University. The raid on 22 January was an exceptionally violent one. According to Manar, Israeli forces do not normally enter university grounds, but instead roam the surrounding streets in up to three armoured vehicles, at least once a week.
The Palestine Monitor also spoke with Huthife Jammus, a media student at Al-Quds and also in training at the University’s news agency. During an attack by Israeli forces in May 2013, Huthife got shot in the mouth by a rubber bullet, losing several of his teeth. “I was filming at the side of the Israelis, but they told me to leave their area. So I had to go to the other side, where I got shot by a rubber bullet,” he explains. But that was not the first time he got injured. In another attack he took a direct hit in the arm from a tear gas canister, showing the scar to prove it.
“Systematic campaign”
“I don’t understand, the university is already surrounded by the separation wall, there is no threat, why do they even need to patrol the neighbourhood? What do they want?” Manar Hassan asked.
Ziyad Abou Awwad, dean of the Students’ Affairs Office, tried to answer that question during an interview with the Palestine Monitor, saying there was no direct reason for this attack. Awadd is convinced that the violence is part of a systematic campaign against the University and its position in Palestinian society. First of all, Awwad explains, the violence is a way to thwart the university’s educational reputation, making the university a less attractive choice for potential students. “As if the occupation and its checkpoints isn’t already making it difficult enough for students to simply get to campus. That’s why many students stay in and around Abu Dis for the week and only go home in the weekends.”
Next to that, Israel still doesn’t recognize degrees from Al-Quds. “Every time we’re getting close to meeting their requirements concerning the degrees, they add new requirements,” Awwad explains. “This is making it very difficult for graduates from Jerusalem, who make up 40% of the student population of 12,000, to find a job in their hometown.” This is a significant issue, because if these students move out of Jerusalem for professional reasons, they will lose their blue ID, and thus their Jerusalem residency status, making it impossible to enter the city without a special permit, known to be very hard to obtain.
The University is also a way for Palestinians to connect with the rest of the world through international academic conferences or the different partner universities. “Again,” Awwad points out, “this is something the Israelis are not very happy with, so they try to damage our reputation.”
Israel also isn’t very fond of the University’s activities in Jerusalem’s Old City, Awwad said. In the Old City, which sits on the opposite side of Israel’s separation wall, the University provides several community services, including health services, funding for the renovation of historic buildings, a science museum, research centres, career services and educational television programmes.
“Unequeal battle”
In addition to the administrative difficulties concerning the recognition of degrees and the regular harassment and violence the students are facing, Awwad points out the current media and propaganda battle the University has had to deal with. “Some western media seem to be making up half-truths about what’s happening at our University. It is difficult to counter these stories, because our point of view is seldom taken into account in these media outlets.”
“Again, our reputation is at stake,” said Awwad of the current “media war.”
The conflict has also placed direct consequences on the university’s educational level. This was the case with the recent commotion in some Western media outlets following a demonstration on 5 November by a student organisation with ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the subsequent reaction by Brandeis University to suspend its partnership with Al-Quds.
At the demonstration, members of this student group were dressed up in black military uniforms, carrying fake automatic rifles and making a “Nazi-like” salute, according to a statement by Brandeis University. In his reaction to these events, chairman of Al-Quds University Sari Nusseibeh labelled the demonstration “a mock military display,” stressing the university’s paramount “values of freedom, democracy and pluralism.” In an interview with The Times of Israel, Nusseibeh said to condemn the demonstration.
According to Awwad, this demonstration should be seen as part of “a play, depicting the daily reality of the occupation.” He denies that the student group had the intention of doing a Nazi-salute. “Yes, they raised their arms, but it’s not related to Hitler, Nazism or fascism at all.”
Fahdi Shawaheen, chairman of the Al-Quds Student Council, adds that every major Palestinian political faction is represented at Al-Quds. “Hamas, Fatah, the Palestine National Initiative, each one of them has a student group represented at the university. It’s part of the policy of the university to assure the freedom of speech of every group, including Islamic Jihad.”
According to student Huthife Jammus, the Islamic Jihad student group is not that big at the University. “We only know four members, the rest of them are always masked during their activities,” he said.
International partners
Following the demonstration and the commotion it caused, Brandeis University, one of the academic partners of Al-Quds, decided to suspend the partnership. But Awwad is convinced that the partnership will be re-established in the coming weeks or months. Talks between the two universities are currently under way.
It’s worth noting that in November of last year Brandeis decided to suspend the partnership because of a demonstration by a student group, but that after the violent raid on 22 January Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence believed that “reacting to events by issuing statements in the public media or setting a timeline for a decision about the relationship would not serve a useful purpose.”
After the January raid, three Brandeis professors did express their concern about “the personal security” of students and staff at Al-Quds. Also, President of Bard College Leon Botstein said in a letter published on the Al-Quds University website on 29 January, that the raid was “unacceptable.”
“The University must be a place where teaching, learning, a free expression can take place without fear of military action.”


Bard College is Al-Quds University’s main foreign partner.


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