Palestinians slam Israel army’s ‘barbaric’ university raid and students arrests

Palestinians have strongly condemned the Israeli army's storming of a leading West Bank university and the detaining of student activists.

Around 10 military vehicles violently raided Birzeit University’s campus before dozens of special forces disembarked and surrounded the student council building, according to student Basil Barghouti.

Troops assaulted university guards, vandalised the council’s office and arrested eight of its members.

The detained students, including the council’s elected president, Abdul Majeed Hassan, had been barricading themselves inside the building for two weeks fearing arrest by the Palestinian security services.

“The soldiers destroyed the contents of the building and broke equipment that was to be used in activities during next week,” Barghouti told Middle East Eye.

“They also confiscated many items belonging to the student council.”

Along with Hassan, those arrested included senior members of the student council, which is dominated by the Islamic Wafa bloc. The Hamas-affiliated list won student elections in May for the second consecutive year, beating their PA-affiliated rivals.

Birzeit University, located north of Ramallah, is one of the largest educational institutions in the occupied West Bank and maintains its independence from the control of the Palestine Authority (PA).

Student activism at the university is hotly contested and often reflects trends in the wider Palestinian political life.

The Sunday raid came one day after Birzeit opened its doors for the new academic year, a time when there is high demand for the services provided by the student council.

It also follows the violent arrest of elected leader Hassan by the PA forces, who regularly coordinate security matters with the Israeli army, in June.

The 23-year-old was detained with fellow student activist Yahya Farah and held for a month over their student work.

Students from the Islamic Wafa bloc say they have faced continued harassment by the PA forces since, including attempts to arrest some of them.

“The [PA] security services arrested two students on charges of union work because they were students from the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafa bloc,” stated Barghouti.

“After that, the students and elected council members began sleeping at the university for fear of arrest,” Barghouti added.

Nour al-Tamimi, a member of the Right to Education Campaign at the university, denounced how the arrests on Sunday were carried out as “barbaric”.

She said the troops threatened the students with their weapons and used dogs to terrorise them.

“We tried to document the toll of violations that occurred that night, and everything we documented confirms that it was a systematic attack directly against the student council at Birzeit University,” Tamimi told MEE.

Such raids into Palestinian universities are not new. Birzeit University was last raided in 2021, and in 2018, when then-council president Omar al-Kiswani was arrested. At least 80 students attending the university are at present detained in Israeli military prisons, according to the university.

The Israeli military claimed the eight students detained on Sunday were recruited by Hamas and were planning an attack against Israel. Similar claims are routinely made by the Israeli military after the arrest of Palestinian activists.

Birzeit University denounced the attack on its campus and the arrest of the students, calling it a violation of “internationally upheld principles”.

“The recurring and brutal invasion is an extension of the military occupation’s systematic policy to break down the educational system in Palestine, particularly attempting to exert control over Palestinian youth, their aspirations and right to education,” the university announced in a statement.

“Birzeit University has been subjected to military raids and arrest campaigns since its establishment, and last academic year several students were shot at and subsequently imprisoned by Israeli occupation forces at the eastern gate of the university.”

The board of trustees at the university urged action by international institutions, calling upon them to protect the Palestinian public and their educational institutions.

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