An Israeli patrol injured eight students at Al Quds University with rubber bullets and 78 students with tear gas after conflict broke out between the students and the police, a university spokesman said. The Israelis contend they were provoked and responded in self defense.
The incident is part of a pattern, Palestinian academics and an academic freedom group say, that shows discrimination by Israeli authorities against Palestinians that blocks many from pursuing their education.
The clash began when Israeli police stopped students outside the Al Quds University campus in the West Bank’s town of Abu Dis, reports said. The details of what happened are in dispute.
Mohammad Abu Elzait, a press officer at Al Quds University, said that before the incident, an Israeli border police patrol stopped and searched several students at the campus’s main gate. He said the police reviewed identity cards and briefly detained several students.
Clashes broke out after university staff prevented Israeli forces from entering the campus, according to the Ma’an News Agency. At that point, Abu Elzait said, students were injured by rubber bullets and suffered from gas inhalation and were transferred to the Abu Dis emergency center.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld had a different point of view on the incident. He said clashes began when “disturbances” took place in the area.
“This was yet again another local disturbance that our police units had to deal with,” Rosenfeld said. “What happens is many times police officers patrol different areas and unfortunately they’re attacked with no incidents prior to that and that’s why they just have to respond – to protect themselves and make sure that no one gets injured. So, that’s specifically what took place in the event in the Abu Dis neighborhood.”
Palestinians, he said, threw stones and rocks at police units who used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse what he described as rioters.
The violence jeopardizes the well-being of the university environment, said the Committee on Academic Freedom at the Middle East Studies Association, or MESA, a United States-based group.
“The possibility of being under sudden attack, whether by tear gas or rubber bullets, makes both the students and professors unable to overcome anxiety or concentrate,” Charles Butterworth, a chair of MESA’s committee, told Al-Fanar Media. “Peace, quiet and some
assurance that harm will not occur are central to good learning.”
Imad Abu Keshik, executive vice-president of Al-Quds University, said that what happened in early September was not an isolated incident. The intrusion and similar incidents “are part of systematic Israeli policies of control and intimidation that infringe upon the Palestinian educational process,” he said.
He also said that Israel does not officially recognize the university, which is the only Arab University in Jerusalem and has two campuses in the West Bank and another in Jerusalem – and more than 12,000 students. “The geographic division between Al Quds University campuses has created this problem,” he said.
Rosenfeld could not confirm whether police have previously entered the campus. “Normally our units don’t go inside unless absolutely necessary,” he said.
“Police units, border police, carry out regular patrols, security patrols and unfortunately stones, rocks, molotov cocktails, and petrol bombs are thrown at our units on a regular basis,” he said.
Mahmoud Fatayta, a professor at the Faculty of Information in Abu Dis, accused Israel of fighting Palestinian students and professors because education is a tool for change and empowerment. He said Palestinian students, faculty members and staff have had restricted access to schools and higher-educaton institutions because their movement is constrained by Israel.
“Education is one of the basic human rights and its only possible tool for our students for a better future,” Fatayta said.
In a separate incident, a recent Birzeit University graduate was detained by both Israeli and Jordanian authorities while trying to move through the region, preventing him from working in an internship he was offered at the University of California Berkeley in the United States.
As Albaraa Kefaya tried to leave the West Bank for Jordan last May, Israeli authorities detained and accused him of being a political activist working against the government, according to Middle East Studies Association. Eventually he was permitted to leave, but was detained again when entering Jordan – where he planned to board a flight to the United States – and interrogated before being handed back to Israeli authorities.
Now, it appears he is not allowed to leave the Palestinian Territories.
“The detention and subsequent dawdling by the Israeli authorities caused him to miss the post-doc program at UC Berkeley,” Butterworth said in an e-mail. It seems Kefaya also missed a program in Turkey, he said.
The association’s president Peter Sluglett criticized the Israeli government, claiming various travel bans and restrictions to education imposed by authorities on Palestinian students are discriminatory.
“Moreover, they violate the right to equality enshrined in the human-rights conventions that Israel claims to support,” Sluglett wrote in an Aug. 30 letter to Israel’s leaders. “These practices are by no means justifiable, not even in terms of Israel’s national security interests; rather, they simply humiliate and subjugate the individuals in question.”