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Right to Education Campaign, R2E, 3 December 2007
On Sunday 2 December 2007, Fadi Hamad, the head of Birzeit Student Council was taken to a military court where he was accused of holding a position of responsibility within an ‘illegal’ organization.
It was the first time Fadi was able to see his lawyer since his arrest a week ago, and despite not being charged with anything concrete which threatens the security of Israel, the Israeli army prosecutor accused him of holding a position of responsibility within a student bloc. The hearing on this charge will be on Thursday 6 December.
Under Israeli military law, all student blocs are outlawed making membership to any student branch of a political party illegal, and subjecting thousands of students to arbitrary arrest. In practice, this sweeping power is used by the army as a tool for persecuting certain parties while giving favourable treatment to others. This policy serves to criminalise political activity in the occupied territories and to inflame political tensions amongst student groups, and by extension, amongst their political parties.
This is not the first time that the Israeli army has targeted Birzeit’s Student Council. Since 2004, the army has arrested 6 elected representatives of the Council, 3 of whom were presidents of the Council at the time of arrest.
Earlier this year, Fadi Hamad commented on these arrests – “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.”
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.