Over 60 Birzeit students held in Israeli prisons for political reasons

1) Palestine Monitor, political arrests at Bir Zeit uni; 2) Arrested by the PNA, Electronic Intifada; 3) Palestinian students’ campaign to end political arrests of students and to free those held on administrative detention.

Student Kifah Quzmar who has been arrested by the PNA police (2016) and is now held under administrative detention – along with 60 other Palestinian students, by the Israeli military.

Stifling political activism on Palestinian campuses

The case of Kifah Quzmar

By Nadia Sa‘ad, Palestine Monitor
May 29, 2017

Kifah Quzmar, a student at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, was finishing his last year of a degree in business administration when he was arrested on March 7 whilst returning from Jordan via the Allenby crossing. The Israeli authorities communicated no charge against him.

He was then interrogated for 20 days and denied a lawyer. On March 26 he started a hunger strike to protest his detention. His case then gained international attention but Quzmar is actually one of sixty-plus BZU students currently imprisoned by Israeli Forces.

On April 3, the Israeli military court of Ofer ordered 6 months of administrative detention without a charge or trial for Quzmar. This is the maximum length of administrative, however it is continually renewable.

The organization, Samidoun- Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, released a statement regarding the detention of Quzmar, in which they called for the international community to join in solidarity with Quzmar and all Palestinian students detained by the occupying forces.

“The imprisonment of Palestinian students by the occupation is a clear breach of international, human rights and humanitarian law and academic freedom as a whole,” the statement argued.

Students that are actively involved in campus politics are often targeted and held as political prisoners due to their involvement in “prohibited organizations”, along with their personal politics off campus. Arrests normally spike as annual student elections approach.

According to Anan Odeh, who was Quzmar’s lawyer before the interrogation process, neither he nor Quzmar knew the reasons behind his detention. “They [Israel] don’t give any information besides that he is detained for suspicions that he is a security threat to Israel,” Odeh told Palestine Monitor. “They will use this reason for everyone and it’s never specific. When and if they convict him then they release his file,” he added.

Odeh mentioned that Quzmar was asked by his interrogators: “You are a suspected threat to Israeli security, what do you think about that?” Odeh continued, “The information regarding his arrest is in a confidential file that they are not required to release, not even to his lawyer.”

“Any student can be arrested for being involved in political blocs, because they [the blocs] are forbidden according to Israeli law,” Odeh explained. “But I also represent some students who organize non-political events, such as large parties for other students, teachers or with their departments. They have been arrested”.

According to Israeli Military Law, specified under 1945 (Defence) Emergency Regulations and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, it is illegal for students to be members of a student bloc affiliated with a political party deemed as a terrorist organization.

On May 10, as student council elections began at Birzeit, students involved in political blocs were on high alert. During this time, students actively involved in the student council or supporting political blocs on campus are often the target of arbitrary arrests and on-campus raids. For the third year in a row, the Islamic bloc, a Hamas affiliated list of candidates, won the majority of seats at the council.

Last January, Israeli forces held a night raid at BZU and confiscated computers, leaflets, flags, and brochures from the Student Union Offices most of which belonged to the Islamic Bloc.

Birzeit is known as being one of the most diverse campuses in Palestine, as it is situated in the heart of the occupied West Bank. BZU has long been an important institution when it comes to youth activism. Its name is therefore also linked to subsequent arrests.

Samidoun’s statement calling for Quzmar’s freedom was signed and endorsed by a multitude of organizations abroad expressing solidarity with Quzmar and Palestinian students, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestinian Youth Movement.

Bringing greater awareness to the issue of Palestinian prisoners, a 40-day mass hunger strike held by more than 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners ended last Saturday after some of the prisoners’ demands were met.

Quzmar, alongside 500 other Palestinians, remain in administrative detention, without knowing the charges against them, and without access to a fair trial.

Jailed for calling the Palestinian Authority rotten

By Budour Youssef Hassan, Electronic Intifada
May 28, 2016

Kifah Quzmar was at a café in downtown Ramallah when a few men followed him to the toilet. After grabbing him, they dragged him out to a car with a yellow Israeli license plate.

The men, it soon transpired, were undercover police working for the Palestinian Authority. They apprehended Quzmar at the West Bank café on 11 May because of comments he had made on Facebook.

Following the arrest of his friend Seif al-Idrissi by PA forces in April, Kifah wrote on the social media website: “Do you know why the mukhabarat [PA intelligence service] is a rotten agency? Because the entire PA is rotten.”

According to his brother, Anan, this is not the first time that Kifah had been arrested because of something he wrote on Facebook. “They interrogated him a couple of years ago for a joke mocking the PA which he wrote during a snowstorm,” Anan said.

Kifah was released on bail one week after his arrest this month. His lawyer, Anas al-Barghouti, said Kifah could face charges of insulting the PA. No charges have yet been issued.

Kifah is a business student at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. He is also a member of the Democratic Progressive Student Pole, the largest left-wing organization in the university.

Moral bankruptcy

Palestinian scholar Abdel Sattar Qassem argued that such arrests expose the moral bankruptcy and illegitimacy of the PA and its leadership.

Qassem, a political science professor at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, has himself been recently arrested for speaking out against the PA.

“Political arrests have been a PA policy since its establishment and they witness increases whenever the PA sees itself under threat,” Qassem told The Electronic Intifada. “They target leftists and Islamists and anyone who is critical of the PA and its security coordination with the Israeli occupation.”

Qassem said that political persecutions and arrests by the PA are designed to serve two intertwined interests.

“They seek to protect the Israeli occupation and prevent any potential uprising against it and they also endeavor to cement the status quo and maintain the privileges that the PA has by preventing any potential uprising against it,” he said.

Many of those regularly arrested by the PA are known for activism against the Israeli occupation, according to Qassem. Arresting them, he argued, sends a message to the PA’s backers in Arab and Western governments that the PA will not allow another intifada.

When an uprising against the occupation began in October last, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s leader, said that he wished to avoid an “escalation” with Israel. He has previously described the PA’s cooperation with the Israeli military and intelligence as “sacred.”

Most Palestinians remain reluctant to speak about the issue of political arrests by the PA.

While Kifah Quzmar’s family and friends were prepared to talk about his case, circulating the Facebook post that led to his arrest, other former detainees at PA prisons have avoided publicity for fear of retribution.

Reliable data about the number of people arrested on political grounds by the PA are very hard to find.

“The PA always denies that it holds political prisoners, regularly framing those arrests as either criminal or security,” Anas al-Barghouti, Kifah’s lawyer who also works for the Palestinian prisoner support group Addameer, said.

“We always struggle to compile names and approximate numbers of political detainees because the PA always tries to keep those facts censored,” Muhannad al-Azzeh, an Addameer spokesperson, told The Electronic intifada. “But from the information that we have managed to compile, there has been a noticeable increase in [detention] over the last few months.”

“Arrest season”

The increase can be linked to the beginning of student union election campaigns in universities.

Students affiliated to the Islamic Bloc have been the main targets; they have been pursued by both Israeli and PA forces. Leftist students — particularly those competing with Fatah, the dominant party in the PA — have also been targeted, albeit to a lesser degree.

Many Palestinian student activists describe the months preceding university elections as “arrest season.”

Arrests of students by the PA, either from their homes or university dorms, hit their peak in March just a month before the elections in most West Bank universities.

A number of female students, especially those affiliated to the Islamic Bloc, have been arrested.

Alaa Manasra, a postgraduate student at Hebron University, was arrested on her way to class on 7 March this year. She was released after seven hours of interrogation that focused on her activism.

Another female student at Hebron University, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes that there is direct cooperation between the PA and Israel in targeting students.

“The PA basically does Israel’s dirty work, breaking into our homes, confiscating our laptops and trying to stifle any form of activism inside universities to guarantee that the Fatah-affiliated student groups win the elections,” the student said.

The student believes that the arrest campaign has been more aggressive this year in response to the unexpected wins by the Islamic Bloc at Birzeit University, a traditional stronghold of Fatah’s youth wing.

Treated as enemy

Palestinian concerns that the PA is directly coordinating its activities with Israel were reinforced by the arrest of three youths who were allegedly planning an attack on Israeli military targets.

Bassel al-Araj, Haytham Siyaj and Muhammad Harb were arrested by the PA in April.

Anas al-Barghouti, lawyer for the three men, said that the PA tries to spin such arrests in a positive manner. “They claim that the arrests were to ‘protect’ those youths, which is quite ironic,” he said.

It is also quite common for Palestinians to be imprisoned by Israel shortly after being released by the PA.

A recent case in point is that of Khalil Canaan, L, who was arrested by Israeli forces from his home in Aida refugee camp beside the West Bank city of Bethlehem about a week ago. He had only been released from PA detention two days earlier.

Palestinians often say that being arrested by the PA is worse than being arrested by Israel.

“It hurts to be arrested and persecuted by your own people, by those who claim to represent the Palestinian cause,” Qassem said, referring to his personal experience of repeated spells in PA jails. “Criticism of the PA is labeled as treason and they treat you as an enemy for opposing Abbas.”

Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails receive considerable support, regardless of their political affiliation. Meanwhile, Palestinians jailed by the PA receive little solidarity, said Qassem, despite the terrible conditions they face.

“Abbas has repeatedly stated that he’d do anything to prevent the eruption of a third intifada,” Qassem said. “The ongoing repression and arrests demonstrate his commitment to protect Israel and his own status.”

Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer and law graduate based in occupied Jerusalem. Blog: budourhassan.wordpress.com. Twitter: @Budour48

This call out is open for ORGANIZATIONAL endorsements. Thank you!We, the undersigned student organizations, groups, associations and unions urge all organizations to express solidarity with hunger striker, student and prisoner Kifah Quzmar and his fellow imprisoned Palestinian students and sign this statement:

Kifah Quzmar, 27, and in his last year of study of Business Administration at BirZeit University, was arrested by Israeli authorities on 7th March when returning from a trip at the Karameh/Allenby crossing from Jordan. As of now, no charges or allegations have been made against him. On 26 March he demanded to either be charged with something or released, but instead Israel extended his interrogation for eight additional days. To protest this injustice, the same day he started a hunger strike demanding his release.

The imprisonment of Palestinian students by the occupation is a clear breach of international, human rights and humanitarian law and academic freedom as a whole. The massive use of imprisonment in Palestine is a key weapon of settler colonialism as it attempts to suppress and eliminate Palestinian resistance. We condemn the Israeli Occupation for its grave violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Arts. 14, 17, 18, 19, 22), through its use of imprisonment and of the rights of students to education and to full and active political participation. At BirZeit University alone, 60 Palestinian students are denied access to education because they are held as political prisoners in Israeli jails. Students are repeatedly targeted for arrests, especially as annual student elections approach; activists involved with student political blocs are ordered to administrative detention or accused of support for “prohibited organizations.”

We, the undersigned student organizations, groups, associations and unions, demand the immediate release of Kifah Quzmar and all Palestinian political prisoners. We also demand an immediate end to the imprisonment of Palestinian students, which is a direct impediment of the right to education (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art. 13). At last, we call upon all education institutions, companies and governments to comply with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in order to pressure Israel in complying to International Law.

We call upon all organizations to express solidarity with Kifah Quzmar and his fellow imprisoned Palestinian students and sign this statement. We refuse to remain silent about the ongoing injustice in Palestine and we stand in solidarity with all Palestinians who are deprived of their unalienable rights of freedom, justice and return.

Palestinian students are being denied their education by the Israeli occupation. International solidarity can help to defend them!

What can you do?

1) Sign up your organization to this statement.

2) Organize a protest or action at an Israeli consulate and/or university/community square, urging freedom for Kifah Quzmar and Palestinian student prisoners. Highlight Kifah Quzmar and fellow Palestinian students in actions for Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, 17 April, and the Week of Action, 14-24 April.

3) Organize a table in a student center or a one-day hunger strike in support of Kifah Quzmar. Fellow students must know about the persecution faced by Palestinian students.

4) Organizations, associations and student unions and groups: write a letter or a statement in support of Kifah, or take a group photo with a sign that says, “Free Kifah Quzmar!” and use #FreeKifahQuzmar on social media. Share your statements and photos with us on Facebook, or email samidoun@samidoun.net.

5) Join the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Campaign to build the boycott of Israel, including the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the system of imprisonment and occupation, while Palestinian students are denied their normal functioning and right to education by ongoing arrest campaigns.

Signed organizations:
Al-Awda, PRRC
American Muslims for Palestine – NJ
Anakbayan New York
Anakbayan New Jersey
Arab-European Student Association – ULB
Asociación Palestina Biladi
Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine (AURDIP)
Association of Palestinian Community in Scotland
AWAke International Student Organisation for World Affairs
BDS Berlin
BDS Campaign – University of Manchester
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
Comité BDS-ULB
Concordia Student Union – CSU
Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine
Coup Pour Coup 31
Derry Branch – Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Edinburgh University Communist Society
Estudiantes por la Justicia en Palestina – Madrid
Exeter Palestine Action
Florida State University Students for Justice in Palestine
Fordham University Students for Justice in Palestine
Free Leonard Peltier!
Freedom Archives
Freedom Road Socialist Organization
Fronte Palestina – Italy
Gentse studenten voor Palestina- Vrije Universiteit Gent / Hogeschool Gent
General Union of Palestine Students – (GUPS Aix-Marseille)
General Union of Palestine Students – (GUPS Paris)
General Union of Palestine Students – San Francisco State Univeristy
Human Rights March
Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Inminds, UK
Ireland supporting Palestinian youth
Jericho Movement
Jeunesses Libertaires Belgique
Jewish Voice for Peace, San Diego
John Jay Students for Justice in Palestine
King’s BDS Network
Manchester Boycott Israel Group
Merton PSC
National Students for a Democratic Society
New York City Students for Justice in Palestine
Not In Our Name (NION), Toronto, Canada
Palestina Rossa – Italy
Palestine Solidarity Committee – Austin
Palestine Solidarity Committee – University of Texas
Palestine Solidarity – Philippines
Palestinian Youth Movement – United States
People for Peace, London (Ontario)
Plate-forme Charleroi-Palestine
Popular Resistance of Mississippi
Progressive Student Labor Front – Palestine
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoners Solidarity Network
Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at the University of Western Ontario
Strathclyde Students for Palestine
Student Labor Action Coalition
Studenten voor Rechtvaardigheid in Palestina – Universiteit van Amsterdam / Hogeschool van Amsterdam
Studenten voor Rechtvaardigheid in Palestina – Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Students Against Israeli Apartheid – Carleton University
Students Against Israeli Apartheid – George Mason University
Students Against Israeli Apartheid – Toronto
Students Against Israeli Apartheid – York University
Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Houston
Students for Justice in Palestine – Claremont College
Students for Justice in Palestine – Dublin
Students for Justice in Palestine – Kent State University
Students for Justice in Palestine – Leiden-Haaglanden
Students for Justice in Palestine – Maastricht
Students for Justice in Palestine – Nijmegen
Students for Justice in Palestine – Rotterdam
Students for Justice in Palestine – Saint Joseph’s College
Students for Justice in Palestine – The College of Staten Island
Students for Justice in Palestine – UGA
Students for Justice in Palestine – UOIT/DC
Tadamon, Montreal
UCL-Alma RiseUp
Union des Etudiants Communistes
University of Manchester Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Society
United for Palestine, Italia
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
Vrouwen In Het Zwart, Maastricht


© Copyright JFJFP 2017