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Birzeit: How Palestinian students became the next generation of resistance

The West Bank university has survived closures, arrests and Israeli military orders during its four decades

Birzeit uni

University students throw stones at Israeli soldiers at the Atara checkpoint in November 2012

RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank – It sits atop a hill north of Ramallah, its white buildings and pine trees catching the spring-time light. Students sit on benches, their chatter ringing out between the libraries and observatory.

For much of the time, life at Birzeit University is like many educational institutes in the Middle East, as the near-14,000 students walk between classes or mill about talking.

But during the past four decades, one of Palestine’s most prominent seats of learning has become a focus for resistance for many living in the West Bank.

Its stature has not gone unnoticed by the Israeli authorities. In March, a unit of five Israeli secret operatives disguised as TV journalists and Palestinian students entered Birzeit to abduct Omar Kiswani, the head of the university’s student council.

Kiswani was asked by one of the Mistaravim – as the undercover operatives are known – to be interviewed, on camera, in front of the campus’s council building.

But then, according to witnesses, he was pinned to the ground by his assailants, who produced firearms from their backpacks, aimed their weapons at students to keep them at bay and fired into the air. Two students and a university employee were wounded in the incident, according to university staff who spoke to Middle East Eye.

Waleed Sayej, a Birzeit security guard, told the media that once the Mistaravim had detained Kiswani, Israeli soldiers entered the campus from its western gate to support the operation.

This is not the first violent intrusion by Israeli army forces, who systematically invade the university’s campus

– Birzeit University

“They locked the guards in the reception room,” he said. “We could not interfere to defend the students.” Social media posts of the incident soon went viral.

In a statement, the university said: “This is not the first violent intrusion by Israeli army forces, who systematically invade the university’s campus – even though it is specifically protected under international humanitarian law –  and constantly harass students, faculty members, and staff at Birzeit University and other Palestinian educational institutions.”

An Israeli army spokesperson told the Times of Israel that Kiswani was arrested because of “suspected involvement in terror activity”.

‘A message from them to put fear in our hearts’

The arrest of Kiswani, while alarming for those on campus, was not unusual for Birzeit, the second-largest university in the West Bank and a centre of Palestinian cultural, political and academic life.

Sundus Hammad is a coordinator at the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit, a movement launched in 1988 to raise awareness of how the Israeli occupation has barred access to education for Palestinians.

The campus at Birzeit University overlooks the surrounding region (BU)

She said it was the fifth Israeli army raid on Birzeit campus in two years and that while Israeli forces’ raids were a regular occurence, the one on 7 March differed in that it happened during school hours while students were present.

“It was an abduction, the way they entered the university, infiltrated undercover soldiers to abduct Omar like this,” she said. “It was a message from them to put fear in our hearts. We were really shocked by this barbarian way to raid our campus.”

Kiswani is now being held in the Russian Compound interrogation centre in west Jerusalem, infamous for its harsh incarceration conditions, Hammad says.

The student leader has gone on hunger strike for two weeks in protest at his prison conditions, which include being interrogated for up to 18 hours a day.

Kiswani’s activism and political focus are not atypical of the Birzeit students who came before him.

Yahya Ayyash during his study at Birzeit (screengrab)

Alumni include the Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh, who studied and then taught at the university. Her novels depict life under Israeli occupation, mainly in Nablus, where she grew up.

Yahya Abd-al-Latif Ayyash, an electrical engineering student, graduated from Birzeit in 1991, then became the chief bombmaker for Hamas and the leader of the West Bank battalion of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

He was assassinated by Mossad in 1996 with an explosive-laden phone in the Gaza town of Beit Lahia.

Marwan Al-Barghouti, another alumni, is regarded as one of the leaders of the Second Intifada during the early 2000s. He graduated in history and political science, and led Birzeit’s student council from 1983 to 1986, when he represented Al-Shabiba, the student branch of Fatah.

Accused of killing an Israeli, Barghouti was jailed by the Israeli army in 2002 and is now one of the most prominent Palestinian political figures in detention.

Majed Abdulfattah served as acting president of the university’s student union during the First Intifada, which began in December 1987.

“I had heard of Birzeit because academically it was the strongest, and it was known as a national university, where you will put your nationalism in practice there,” he said.

“It’s a real education. It’s not only a curriculum, it’s also a life education. When I joined Birzeit, I felt that every day.”

The university on top of a hill

Birzeit, like the rest of Palestinian society during the past 70 years, has always been shaped by politics.

Its name is derived from the village in which it was built, itself known as the “well of olive oil” during the Roman occupation two millennia ago. Olive trees, which are the university’s emblem, are still a common feature across campus and the surrounding hills.

Palestinian students work on a small electronic car controlled by a glove they developed at Birzeit

Birzeit opened as a school in 1924, became a college in 1960 and then a university in 1975 when the Nassers, a Palestinian family of intellectuals and national figures, donated some of their family land.

One of the campus buildings bears the name of Kamal Nasser, a poet, writer and political leader. He attended the then-school during the 1930s and ’40s, was exiled from the West Bank by Israel in 1967, became a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and was assassinated by Israeli forces in Beirut in 1973.

In November 1974, as the institution was transforming from a college into a university, Israeli authorities deported Hanna Nasser, its president, and four other Palestinians to Lebanon, saying that they posed a threat to Israeli security.

Nasser retained his position and moved to Amman, where he worked to obtain accreditation and financial support for Birzeit. At home, the university’s board of trustees dealt with near-daily military orders and confrontations.

We were at an age when we thought about building our future, and we thought we were the key to building the future of the country

– Majed Abdulfattah, Birzeit alumni

The university was closed 15 times by the Israeli army between 1973 and 1992. The longest of these followed the start of the First Intifada, when students at Birzeit and elsewhere staged mass demonstrations.

On 10 January 1988, the Israeli army shut Birzeit’s campus and barred anyone from entering, as part of a broader set of curfews and closures. The shutdown lasted for 51 months and was the longest imposed on any Palestinian university.

Students, teachers and management set up a system they called the “cell of illegal education,” holding classes at home, in dormitories and even at the closed gates of the university. Science students, for example, turned their kitchens into laboratories.

Abdulfattah recalled how one day classes might be at the board of trustees’ office in Ramallah, the next at a teacher’s home. “Some classes were held in other cities like Nablus or Gaza,” he said.

“There were some 2,500 students when the university was closed. At first, classes were held just for students who were close to graduating, but by 1990 almost all students who were enrolled before the First Intifada started were taking at least one class.”

Classes taking place outside the university gates during the First Intifada (BU)

The university reopened on 29 April 1992 and held a graduation ceremony for 700 students later that year.

“The most beautiful feeling we’ve ever had was at that time,” said Abdulfattah. “We were 22, [which] at that age is normally a revolutionary age. We were at an age when we thought about building our future, and we thought we were the key to building the future of the country.”

Why student elections matter

Palestinians have had no opportunity to vote in presidential elections since 2005. During the past decade, the mood at Birzeit has served as a vital barometer of wider Palestinian politics, especially among the younger population (in the West Bank, almost 58 percent of the population were aged 24 and under in 2016).

Birzeit is also one of the few universities whose students are drawn from beyond the neighbouring areas, making it a more diverse representation of Palestinian sentiment, although the fragmentation of the West Bank with Israeli checkpoints has hindered the ability of many students to attend the university, Hammad said, estimating that 40 percent of students came from outside the Ramallah district.

Hamas supporters celebrate winning the student council election at Birzeit in 2015

Since 2015 the al-Wafaa Islamic bloc, which is affiliated with Hamas, has won the majority of votes in student elections, ahead of the Fatah-linked Martyr Yasser Arafat faction. Kiswani represented Wafaa when he was elected in May 2017, with the bloc taking 25 out of the 51 seats on the student council.

Kiswani himself has been detained by the Palestinian Authority before, presumably due to his affiliation to Hamas, including just after the student elections in 2015.

While Hamas has hailed Wafaa’s victories as proof of the party’s popularity in the West Bank, some analysts have interpreted the results as a rejection of the Palestinian Authority on a historically pro-Fatah campus.

The occupation doesn’t want educated people who can say no to its regime

– Sundus Hammad, the Right to Education Campaign 

But, students say, it makes little difference to Israeli forces as to which party has the upper hand at Birzeit. Since 2004, the army has arrested 10 student council representatives at the university, regardless of their affiliation to Fatah and Hamas.

According to Hammad, at least 59 Birzeit students and one staff member are currently detained by Israel. The Right to Education campaign keeps a lawyer on retainer for the sole purpose of representing incarcerated students who cannot afford their own legal defence.

“Education is a tool to resist the occupation, it’s a way for us to develop ourselves as human beings,” she said. “The occupation doesn’t want educated people who can say no to its regime.

Stephen Hawking visits Birzeit in 2006 to lecture on the origin of the universe (BU)

“They think Birzeit University is a threat because they don’t want a university that has educated people that can make a difference in the status quo.”

Abdulfattah said that the Israeli authorities understand that students and labour are the key to any revolution.

“Students are the main key because they are very energetic, they really don’t have much to lose,” he said. “You just think that you are the future.

“I think that’s why Israelis target students, because when you’re in your 20s and you speak politics that means there is a chance that you will act.”

(Source / 22.04.2018)

25-year-old Palestinian succumbs to wounds sustained in Gaza protests

Wounded man

Palestinian men carry a man wounded during clashes with Israeli security forces, outside a hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 9, 2015

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A Palestinian man from the northern Gaza Strip who was critically injured earlier on Friday was pronounced dead later in the afternoon.The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed that 25-year-old Ahmad Nabil Abu Aqel succumbed to wounds sustained during protests in eastern Jabaliya, when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head.Over 30 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the “Great March of Return” protests began on March 30.Among the dead were two minors and a journalist.Friday marked the fourth Friday of the massive nonviolent protests in Gaza, during which thousands of Palestinian refugees have taken to the heavily militarized borders with Israel to demand their collective right of return to their homelands.The six-week protest is set to end on May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when the state of Israel was created, leaving some 750,000 Palestinians and millions of their descendants as refugees.Despite widespread outcry from international rights groups who have condemned Israel’s excessive use of forces against the civilian protesters, Israeli has maintained its open-fire rules for the Gaza border.

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Dozens injured during West Bank protests

WB protests

Dozens of Palestinians were injured on Friday during confrontations with the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) in different West Bank provinces.

Two Palestinian youths were injured by rubber-coated metal bullets during clashes in Bab al-Zawiya area in al-Khalil city.

Other clashes were witnessed in al-Bireh, Bil’in, al-Mazra’a al-Gharbiya and Nabi Saleh in Ramallah during which the Palestinian youths set dozens of tires on fire, raised Palestinian flags and chanted slogans condemning the Israeli crimes.

Following clashes between Palestinian citizens and Israeli settlers, the IOF stormed Burqa town in Ramallah, raided some Palestinian houses and wreaked havoc on them.

Dozens of Palestinians chocked on tear gas while an right-year-old child was injured after being hit with a rubber-coated metal bullet during the weekly demonstration in Kafr Qaddum east of Qalqilya.

Further, the IOF soldiers were deployed in large numbers at the entrance of Azzun town east of Qalqilya. They arbitrarily stopped a number of Palestinian cars and searched them.

Dozens of suffocation cases were reported during clashes in Beita, Kafr Qalil and Huwara towns in Nablus.

Hundreds of Palestinian took to the streets following Friday prayer to participate in protests launched all over the West Bank and Jerusalem in support of the Great March of Return in Gaza.

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Next Friday march to be called Revolutionist Youth Friday

Revolutionist Youth Friday

The national Committee of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege announced that next Friday march will be held under the theme “Revolutionist Youth Friday” within the events of the Great March of Return along Gaza eastern border.

In a press conference on Friday evening, the committee said that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians participated in Friday of Prisoners and Martyrs on April 20.

At least four Palestinians were killed and hundreds of others were injured after Israeli occupation forces targeted the participants by live bullets and tear gas grenades along Gaza border, according to Health Ministry.

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Haneyya to Israel: Be prepared for massive rallies on May 15

Rallies May 15

Head of Hamas’s political bureau Ismail Haneyya has called for massive participation in the March of Return protests slated for May 15 to mark the 70th Nakba anniversary in all areas of occupied Palestine.

“Be prepared for the human flood on all Palestinian borders inside and outside the occupied territories on the Nakba anniversary,” Haneyya said during his participation in a protest on Friday in a Gaza border area.

He made his remarks in response to Israeli threats to attack Gaza protesters if they continued to rally near the border fence.

“The March of Return will remove all barbed wire and borders to prepare for our return to the occupied Palestinian land,” the Hamas official emphasized.

He affirmed that Israel’s threats would only boost the protesters’ fortitude and their determination to continue their March of Return rallies and would never frighten them.

On Friday morning, the Israeli occupation army dropped warning leaflets on Gaza protest areas, saying the lives of protesters would be in danger and threatening to use deadly force against them if they approached or rallied near the border fence.

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Followers of PIC Facebook page top 500,000 people

PIC 500.000 followers

The Palestinian Information Center (PIC) has made a new Facebook achievement recently after its followers on its English page surpassed half a million people in early April, 2018.

The PIC administration hailed such interaction with its English page as one of the goals it seeks to achieve to convey the message of Palestine to the world.

According to the administration, its English Facebook page is aimed at reaching out to the Western world and providing them with information on the Palestinian people’s usurped rights and their national cause as well as their daily suffering under occupation.

The page is also important to confront the Israeli media propaganda machine, which aims to smear the Palestinian people and erase the eternal truth that the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves and claim their rights, mostly importantly their right to live in peace on their own land with no occupation.

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Abbas cuts salaries of Gaza prisoners inside Israeli jails

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seen during his meeting with Palestinian senior leaders at the Presidency building in Ramallah, West Bank on December 18, 2017 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seen during his meeting with Palestinian senior leaders at the Presidency building in Ramallah, West Bank on December 18, 2017

Along with the Palestinian public employees in Gaza, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut the salaries of the Palestinian prisoners from the Gaza Strip held inside Israeli jails, Quds Press reported on Friday.

Sources told Quds Press that they had contacted the head of the PLO’s Committee of Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqe, noting that he claimed this was a result of a “technical error” that would be amended soon.

The sources also reported that senior Fatah leader, Marwan al-Barghouti, imprisoned in Israeli prisons since 2002, was angry with Abbas’s decision to cut the salaries of Palestinian prisoners from Gaza, noting that it “undermines one of the main principles of the Palestinian cause.”

According to the sources, the decision to cut the salaries came two days after Al-Barghouti called upon Abbas to refrain from imposing punitive measures on Gaza.

Read: Trump signs bill cutting aid to Palestinians

The sources also said that the prisoners are planning to go on hunger strike if Abbas did not pay their salaries.

Abbas’ measures against the prisoners coincided with the commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and with the strike of the administrative prisoners which started 54 days ago.

Abbas has persisted in enforcing punitive measures against Gaza to regain control of the coastal enclave from Hamas, which won the last general Palestinian elections in 2006.

Read: Israelis who kill Palestinians receive government stipends

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Haniyeh: Hamas Ready for Prisoner Swap Deal with Israel

20 APR
9:28 PM

Chief of Hamas Political Bureau Ismail Haniyeh said, on Tuesday, that his movement is ready for a prisoner swap with Israel through third-party mediation.

In a televised speech to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Haniyeh said: “We are ready to start talks to achieve a prisoner exchange deal via a mediator.”

Addressing the Palestinians prisoners inside Israel jails, he said: “The time when the [Israeli] occupation is to pay the price and release all of our prisoners is coming sooner or later. All of us are responsible for liberating prisoners. We do not accept the suffering to continue forever.”

He added: “Your cause is always on the table for overt and covert discussions. We always think of using all means to break your shackles and bring you back with dignity and pride.”

Meanwhile, he said that his movement is ready to make concessions for the sake of achieving Palestinian reconciliation.

To this end, he called for holding the Palestinian National Council without excluding any factions, according to the PNN.

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Four killed as Gaza ‘Great March of Return’ protests enter fourth week

Demonstrations have continued unabated despite Israeli attempts to dissuade protesters

Israeli forces have wounded thousands over the past few weeks as protesters have gathered near the fence separating Gaza from Israel

Four Palestinians, including a teenager, were killed in the Gaza Strip on Friday as the besieged territory entered the fourth week of demonstrations as part of the “Great March of Return”.

While Friday protests typically gain traction following noon prayers, the Gaza ministry of health reported in the morning that a Palestinian had been grievously wounded after being shot in the head east of Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip.

In the afternoon, the ministry confirmed that 25-year-old Ahmad Nabil Abu Aql had died from his wounds.

A few hours later, the ministry of health reported the death of Ahmad Rashad al-Athamna, 24, shot dead by Israeli forces in the north of the strip.

In the evening, the ministry announced that 15-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub, was killed east of Jabalia, while Saad Abd al-Majid Abu Taha, 29, succumbed to his wounds after being shot in the neck east of Khan Younis.

The ministry stated that at least 645 Palestinians had been injured during Friday’s demonstration as of 6 pm local time, including 24 minors and 12 women.

An MEE correspondent in Gaza also reported that a paramedic had been critically injured after being shot by Israeli forces east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, while journalist Mohammed al-Sawalhi was shot in the hand with an expanding dumdum bullet, and Palestine TV correspondent Sally al-Sakani suffered from severe tear gas inhalation.

A Palestinian demonstrator wears a makeshift gas mask in Gaza on 20 April 2018

According to the correspondent, in addition to shooting live bullets, Israeli forces were also heavily firing tear gas into Gaza, as surveillance planes flew just above demonstrators in some areas, including near Jabalia.

Several media vehicles were targeted by Israeli forces, as MEE’s correspondent reported seeing the Israeli army fire tear gas canisters directly at vehicles used for live broadcasting east of Gaza City.

Meanwhile, Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency shared a photograph of a press vehicle with a window seemingly broken by a large projectile, without specifying where the incident took place.


Shehab News@ShehabAgencyEn

#Breaking: #Israeli snipers target a vehicle belonging to #Palestinian press crews eastern #Gaza. #GreatReturnMarch

East of al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, at least five Palestinians, including a minor, were injured when Israeli forces shot at a group of demonstrators trying to remove barbed wire installed by the Israeli army on the Gaza side of the fence.

Demonstrators have been gathering several hundred metres from the fence separating Israel from Gaza, where almost 1.3 million of the small territory’s two million inhabitants are refugees, to demand the right to return to their pre-1948 homes.

Protest organisers have officially labelled Friday’s protest in support of “martyrs and prisoners”, in light of Palestinian Prisoner’s Day earlier this week, but on social media some Palestinians dubbed it the “Friday of Kites”.

“The whole international community is focusing on what is happening in Gaza, so it is important to shed light on the Palestinian detainees’ cause, and also to highlight that this peaceful protest was faced with excessive munition, causing 34 martyrs,” Salah Abd al-Ati, the head of the Great Return March’s legal committee, told Middle East Eye. “While Israel continues its brutal policy against Palestinian prisoners neglecting their rights, we reject its policies of solitary confinement and administrative detention.”

While in the past few weeks demonstrators have burned tyres and Israeli flags, on Friday, more and more protesters were flying kites painted in the colours of the Palestinian flag.

Jamal Nasser, 24, has been building kites for the past few days with friends, writing messages such as “We will never leave our land” and “You kill children and unarmed civilians” for Israelis to see from the sky.

“Kites are symbol of peace in all the world,” the young man told MEE. “We fly kites to ensure our right to freedom.”

A Palestinian protester ties a makeshift incendiary device to a kite on 20 April

Some protesters were attaching Molotov cocktails to the kites, although AFP reported that such kites did not cause much damage if they reached past the fence.

“They (the soldiers) are firing explosive bullets and tear gas, we are flying kites to burn the farmland,” a 17-year-old who did not want to be named told AFP.

“We use the kites to send a message that we are capable of bothering the occupation,” 16-year-old Abdullah told the news agency.

The planned six-week protest, which began on 30 March on Palestinian Land Day, is set to end on 15 May – the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Israeli forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

According to the ministry of health, 37 Palestinians have been killed and more than 4,300 have been wounded by Israeli forces since the “Great March of Return” began on 30 March.

You are participating in violent disturbances. Hamas is taking advantage of you to carry out terrorist attacks. The IDF is prepared for any scenario. Stay away

– Israeli army leaflet

No Israeli casualties have been reported.

The Israeli army has rejected repeated pleas by the international community to use restraint and to conduct an independent inquiry into the deaths, maintaining the necessity of its open-fire policy.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli army has dropped leaflets in Gaza warning people to steer clear of the demonstrations.

“You are participating in violent disturbances. Hamas is taking advantage of you to carry out terrorist attacks. The IDF is prepared for any scenario. Stay away from the fence and do not attempt to damage it,” the leaflets reportedly read.

Gaza demonstrators display a large homemade slingshot on 20 April (MEE/Mohammed al-Hajjar)

Meanwhile, the army’s Arabic spokesman, Avichay Adraee, has argued that any woman going to protest in Gaza “lacks honour” and “acts wildly against her feminine nature” – drawing sharp rebukes from female demonstrators themselves.

Gaza, which has been under blockade for almost 11 years, has found itself further strained due to the high number of injuries.

At least 17 Palestinians have had to have limbs amputated after not having access to sufficient care, the health ministry said earlier this week, calling on foreign NGOs and nations to send more medical supplies, and for Israel to allow more patients to exit the small coastal territory to receive treatment in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli army radio reported on Thursday that Palestinian journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein, who was shot in the abdomen on 13 April and taken to the West Bank for treatment, had been transferred to an Israeli hospital due to the severity of his condition.

Jacky Hugi@JackyHugi

העיתונאי העזתי אחמד אבו חסיין פונה הערב מרמאללה לביה”ח #שיבא בעקבות הידרדרות מהירה במצבו. אבו חסיין, כתב תחנת הרדיו של #החזית_העממית, ספג כדור בבטנו בהפגנות יום שישי האחרון, והועבר לרמאללה באישור צה”ל במצב של סכנת חיים. הוא הפצוע הראשון בגל המהומות הנוכחי שמובל לטיפול בישראל

Translation: Palestinian journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein was evacuated from Ramallah to the Tel HaShomer hospital in the wake of a rapid deterioration in his condition. Abu Hussein… is the first casualty in the wave of riots to receive treatment in Israel.

International medical organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement on Thursday that it had treated more wounded people in Gaza in the past three weeks than it had throughout all of 2014 – the year of the last Gaza war.

“MSF medical staff report receiving patients with devastating injuries of an unusual severity, which are extremely complex to treat,” the statement read. “The injuries sustained by patients will leave most with serious, long-term physical disabilities.”

(Source / 21.04.2018)

Yousef al-Kurnz lost a leg covering Gaza’s Great Return March but is not giving up his dream of becoming a photojournalist

Yousef al-Kurnz