The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns the eruption of violence at al-Azhar University in Gaza City at the end of last week. The violence involved students damaging parts of the university and destroying university property. PCHR calls upon the Attorney-General to investigate these attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice. The Centre also calls upon all parties to neutralize universities and academic institutions from the ongoing political conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and to maintain academic and public freedom as enshrined by law.
On Tuesday, 14 October 2008, around 100 students from the Islamic Bloc (the student wing of Hamas) at al-Azhar University, and other universities in Gaza, gathered together outside the campus of al-Azhar University in Gaza City. They then broke into the campus shouting slogans against the administration of the university and other academic figures.
A sound bomb was subsequently detonated inside the campus, and students from the Islamic Bloc destroyed the iron gates of the administration building of the university. They cut down portraits of the late Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, stormed the office of the Board of Trustees and destroyed its contents. They subsequently moved towards offices of the deans of al-Azhar University faculties, threatening a number of deans and vowing further escalation. Later the same day, students from the Fatah Youth Bloc clashed with students from the Islamic Bloc, and a number of student’s on both sides sustained bruises. Islamic Bloc students also distributed a leaflet entitled “Statement of Warning and Excuse Number 3,” attacking the university Board of Deans, especially Dr. Jaber al-Daour, Deputy President of the University Administrative and Financial Affairs Office, and Dr. Riad al-Eila, Dean of Students’ Affairs. The leaflet called upon the Minister of Interior to open what it described as “files of corruption at the university.”
Following these incidents, the university administration organized a sit-in at the university on Wednesday morning, 15 October, and also suspended classes at al-Azhar.
The following morning, Thursday, 16 October, students from the Islamic Bloc organized a sit-in at the front of al-Azhar university campus. The students then broke into the campus itself, threw sound bombs, climbed onto the roofs of a number of buildings, and damaged the contents of others. The university administration subsequently called the police. The police arrived and evacuated all students from the campus.
These incidents were apparently in reaction to a decision taken by the administration of al-Azhar University to dismiss eleven Islamic Bloc students for two years, because of acts of violence that took place at the university on 24 August 2008. These acts involved clashes between Islamic Bloc and Youth Fatah Bloc students, and were followed by violent attacks against some students and administrative staff. In the aftermath of those incidents, the university administration established an investigation committee, and, in accordance with the conclusion of its investigation, the administration dismissed the eleven Islamic Bloc students. The Islamic Bloc considered the decision unjust, and demanded it be reversed. The Islamic Bloc subsequently issued three successive statements during the month of October. The final statement warned of “repercussions against members of this unjust decision,” claiming the Islamic Bloc students held the university and its executives “responsible if they do not retreat from this unjust decision.”
These incidents are an extension of previous incidents related to students’ affairs that have taken place at al-Azhar University during the last few months. PCHR notes that elections of the Student Council are scheduled for this month. The Islamic Bloc has called for the elections to go ahead as scheduled.
In light of the above:
1) PCHR condemns all forms of violence inside the university campus, and calls upon student blocs, and the administration of the university, to settle their differences peacefully and in accordance with applicable regulations.
2) PCHR calls upon all parties to neutralize universities and academic institutions from the ongoing political conflict between Fatah and Hamas, to maintain their independence and to respect academic freedom.
3) The Centre calls for elections for the Student Council at al-Azhar University to be held as scheduled, and for all student blocs to enjoy equal opportunities to participate in the elections and represent students.