Jerusalem students face constant harassment by Israeli forces

Israeli occupation forces temporarily closed Al-Quds University’s Center for Jerusalem Studies in Jerusalem’s Old City, 1 October 2013. Saeed Qaq

Fadi Abu Nemeh cannot remember a time during his four years at Al-Quds University (AQU) when Israeli occupation authorities did not harass students and local residents alike.

“I also grew up in Abu Dis,” Abu Nemeh, a 21-year-old media studies student, explained, referring to the Jerusalem-area town where the university is located.

“The military’s violence has been especially consistent since the second intifada,” he added. “My high school shared a building with AQU and the soldiers used to come there, too.”

A number of military checkpoints and outposts of Israeli settlements are located near the campus and each day armored military vehicles pass by several times, often stopping to clash with students and local residents.

Israel’s wall in the West Bankwhich is illegal, according to the International Court of Justice — dissects land belonging to Abu Dis and cuts off the university and town from the rest of Jerusalem.

“We come to school, where we have human rights programs and a liberal arts education but we step outside to have our rights constantly violated by Israel’s military,” Abu Nemeh told The Electronic Intifada.

Military attack

On the third day of school this semester, 22 January, students were greeted with one of the worst raids the campus has seen in years.

Around 10 AM, Israeli soldiers stopped in front of the university entrance and demanded that students show their identification cards.

The military then launched an attack, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and showering the campus with tear gas.

Nour Hamayel, 20, a third-year English literature major, was sitting with friends drinking coffee in a university corridor when they heard frantic screams.

“We were all alarmed as a weird smell suffocated our throats and [the gas] blurred our vision,” she recalled. “Students were running aimlessly in search of oxygen.”

A group of soldiers then stormed the building and busted into a classroom, where they arrested at least one student.

“Struggling to breathe”

Hamayel and her friends tried to gather their books as quickly as possible, scrambling for an exit as the soldiers clashed with other students. “[University] medics then screamed, ‘Girl down! Girl down!’” she said. “There was a girl on the floor struggling to breathe [and] with swollen eyes.”

A local popular committee spokesperson subsequently told Ma’an News Agency that more than 100 persons suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation (“Israeli forces raid Abu Dis campus, clash with students,” 22 January 2014).

The campus is also home to Bard College at Al-Quds University, an international satellite campus of New York’s Bard College.

AQU and Bard at AQU faculty and staff issued a collective statement calling on Bard College President Leon Botstein to denounce the raid and provide a plan of action in order to “ensure the safety and welfare of all AQU students, staff and faculty” from Israeli soldiers.

Bard College replied by issuing a rare statement, a brisk two paragraphs despite the years of systematic harassment (“Bard College responds to military incursion at Al-Quds University,” 29 January 2014).

“Incursions such as these interfere directly with the mission of the university to promote scholarship and encourage the free exchange of ideas,” Botstein wrote in a joint statement with Jonathan Becker, Bard College’s vice-president.

“Al-Quds University students and faculty, including those in the Al-Quds Bard Honors College for Arts and Sciences [the building that was raided], must be allowed to pursue their educational goals free from fear of violence,” the statement added.

But Botstein and Becker did not refer to any of the prior assaults, which number in the dozens each year, according to students and faculty.

Asked for a comment, Becker told The Electronic Intifada: “We have many campuses around the world and do not issue statements on every event that takes place on or near them.”

Bard College’s other satellite campuses are in Russia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Germany. It is unlikely that their students face the same level of human rights abuses that Palestinians face.

Becker declined to answer whether Bard College has taken any concrete steps to address the problems faced by students at AQU.


Faculty, students and activists say the prevailing silence about the attacks is part and parcel of the hypocrisy with which many academic institutions across the world treat Palestinians.

In November 2013, a rally organized by student affiliates of Islamic Jihad included a military-style parade. A small group of students assembled that day to pay tribute to Palestinians who died while engaged in armed attacks against Israel or were killed by Israel’s military.

Tom Gross, a staunchly rightwing and pro-Israel journalist who reported on the parade, accused the students of “fascist-like displays,” and decried them for bearing plastic guns.

Although AQU released an official condemnation of the rally, referring to it as “totally unacceptable,” both Brandeis University and Syracuse University indefinitely suspended long-standing academic relationships with AQU.

“Intellectual dishonesty”

Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), argued that Brandeis and Syracuse were morally inconsistent.

“US universities that took action against Al-Quds University in occupied East Jerusalem because of a tiny student protest with fake guns have taken hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty to the next level,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

Barghouti pointed out that neither Brandeis nor Syracuse condemned Israel’s 22 January assault, explaining that Israeli soldiers who regularly attack Palestinian students were armed with real weapons, but that “did not warrant any opprobrium from the same US universities.”

“No means to protect”

AQU students and faculty alike explained that the constant military incursions have created a militarized learning environment.

“It is constantly surprising to me how we ask of our students to rise above their daily circumstances and join the world of higher thinkers, when we have no means to protect them or ourselves when the Israeli military attacks our campus,” Tala Abu Rahmeh, 29, an Arabic and English literature professor, told The Electronic Intifada.

According to AQU’s Human Rights Clinic, a university project, the Israeli military attacked the campus or clashed with students at least 12 times in 2013.

Amnesty International researcher Saleh Hijazi explained that the Abu Dis area, which includes the university and at least two nearby high schools, has been subjected to “clear intimidation in certain instances in 2013.”

On 22 October last year, Israeli forces demolished a home near AQU’s campus. When students and locals confronted them, soldiers fired at them with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters (“Clashes in Abu Dis following Israeli house demolition,” Ma’an News Agency, 22 October 2013).

“As an occupying force, Israel has an obligation to protect civilians,” Hijazi told The Electronic Intifada. Demolishing a home in broad daylight demonstrated “a total disregard to safety of people.”

Students and faculty continue to suffer the consequences of Israel’s actions.

Abu Rahmeh asked, “How do you ask a student to delve into Aristotle when he or she feels like their basic safety is constantly violated?”

Editors’ note: one paragraph was slightly ammended to clarify that Bard at AQU staff also signed onto the statement calling on Leon Botstein to denounce the Israeli raid.

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.