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Right to Education Campaign, Birzeit University, 1 August 2007
In the last 3 days, 5 Birzeit University students were arrested by the Israeli army, most of whom belong to the university’s Student Council. The detainees are; Eyad Omar Abu Arqub, Fadi Yunis Jaber, Jalal Hosni Abu Khaled, Omar Abdelrazaq Abdellatif (all members of the Student Council) and Ahmad Mahmoud Hassan.
The men were taken at night from their respective residences, 3 from their student accommodation in Birzeit village and 2 from their family homes around the West Bank.
Under the military laws of the Israeli Occupation, membership to any student branch of a political party is illegal, automatically making thousands of students subject to arbitrary arrest. In practice, this sweeping power is used by the army as a tool for inciting political tensions amongst students as it chooses to arrest members of one group more than another.
“The arrested students who worked for the Student Council focused solely on providing local academic support for students and nothing else. In reality, these arrests serve to discredit and obstruct the work of the Student Council as an institution and are not about providing security for Israel” – said Fadi Ahmad, president of the Student Council.
In fact, this is not the first time that Birzeit Student Council is targeted by the occupation forces. Since 2004, the Israeli army has arrested 6 elected representatives of the Council, 3 of whom were presidents of the Council at the time of arrest.
Birzeit University released a statement yesterday condemning these arrests and calling for an end to Israeli aggression and obstruction against Palestinian education. The Right to Education Campaign reiterates such a call and states that there are currently 99 Birzeit students in detention, 9 of which are held indefinitely without charge under the 1945 British Mandate law of ‘Administrative Detention’.
Moreover, the Campaign highlights that 60% of all arrests were made since 2004 when Israel also stopped all Gazans from studying in the West Bank and deported 4 Birzeit students back to Gaza. Since then, the army has also escalated its practice of arbitrary ‘interviewing’ where students with no political affiliation are taken for questioning about their friends and family for no particular reason. The Student Council states that at least 30% of the 2,200 students living in Birzeit village are subjected to such ‘interviews’. The psychological pressure and anxiety generated from such interviews can amount to inhumane and degrading treatment under International Law. Students who object to such questioning are then harassed at checkpoints, denied work permits and subjected to house invasions.
These forms of harassment are a breach of International Humanitarian Law which states that an occupying power should not disrupt the daily life of the occupied population (4th Geneva Convention); and student arrests, especially those under ‘Administrative Detention’, amount to a breach of the internationally recognized ‘right to education’, first enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and protected by numerous UN bodies and conventions such as UNESCO, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.