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On Sunday 25th November 2007, the president of Birzeit University’s Student Council, Fadi Hamad, was arrested by Israeli military Special Forces while travelling on the road between the al-Jalazoon refugee camp and the city of Ramallah in the occupied Palestinian territories. Eyewitnesses reported that the car carrying Fadi was suddenly ambushed in what seemed like a premeditated operation.
As a student leader, Fadi represented the interests of some 7,000 students before the university administration, and was responsible for welfare programmes for students, providing them with sports and cultural activities as well as help with registration, paying fees, their studies.
Since 1967, the Israeli army has passed military orders outlawing all student societies which promote Palestinian nationalist ideas or parties, including Fatah, despite the fact that Israel officially negotiates with all such political parties at different moments in time. In this way, the army can ‘legally’ detain any student leader simply on the grounds of his or her political affiliation and in practice, persecute certain political opinions over others thus aggravating political tensions in Palestinian society at any given moment.
On the day of his arrest, Fadi was taken to Ofer detention centre where he was held without access to legal counsel for about 14 days (as is usual of such detention centres). Fadi was immediately charged with breaching a probation order which banned him from engaging with a student group for the next 3 years, and for ‘holding a position of responsibility’ and ‘belonging to an illegal organisation’.
His probation order was issued in September 2004 after he had served 10 months on account of having been a member of the Islamic Bloc and the then acting president of the Student Council after the elected president had been arrested 5 months earlier in July 2004. The elected president at that time was Mohammad Quran who was also charged with ‘belonging to an illegal organisation’ and sentenced to 16 months. As history tends to repeat itself when it comes to the silencing of political voices, Fadi’s second arrest in 2007 was followed by the arrest of his replacement, Abdullah Owais, who was also taken at a checkpoint 3 months later in February 2008 and charged with the same: ‘holding a position of responsibility’ and ‘belonging to an illegal organization’.
According to the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders*, Fadi Hamad and Abdullah Owais fit the criteria as they were defending the welfare and rights of students at the time of their arrest and are incarcerated simply because of these activities and their political views. They have never been involved with, or charged with, any security-related offenses. The Campaign calls for their immediate release.
The Right to Education Campaign would also like to point out that 21 out of 40 cases represented by Birzeit University’s lawyer are prisoners of conscience who are serving time solely for their belonging to student societies or political parties, many of whom held positions of leadership in the Student Council at the time of their arrest. These students are not only being denied their freedoms of association, thought, and liberty; they are being denied their education.
“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”
– Fadi Hamad (before his arrest) when asked about the detention of other Student Council members.
PLEASE WRITE to your government representatives asking them to raise questions in Parliament or Congress, and to put pressure on the Israeli government to release student prisoners of conscience and to respect their rights to freedom of association, thought and liberty – ultimately, calling on Israel to respect the right to education of Palestinian students.