Thursday, March 04, 2021

Stifling political activism on Palestinian campuses: the case of Kifah Quzmar

By Nadia Sa‘ad - May 29, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features] [Behind Bars]
Tags: [Administrative detention] [Birzeit University] [prisoners]

Kifah Quzmar, a student at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, was finishing his last year of a degree in business administration when he was arrested on March 7 whilst returning from Jordan via the Allenby crossing. The Israeli authorities communicated no charge against him.
He was then interrogated for 20 days and denied a lawyer. On March 26he started a hunger strike to protest his detention. His case then gained international attention but Quzmar is actually one of sixty-plus BZU students currently imprisoned by Israeli Forces.
On April 3, the Israeli military court of Ofer ordered 6 months of administrative detention without a charge or trial for Quzmar. This is the maximum length of administrative, however it is continually renewable.
The organization, Samidoun- Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, released a statement regarding the detention of Quzmar, in which they called for the international community to join in solidarity with Quzmar and all Palestinian students detained by the occupying forces.
“The imprisonment of Palestinian students by the occupation is a clear breach of international, human rights and humanitarian law and academic freedom as a whole,” the statement argued.
Students that are actively involved in campus politics are often targeted and held as political prisoners due to their involvement in “prohibited organizations”, along with their personal politics off campus. Arrests normally spike as annual student elections approach.
According to Anan Odeh, who was Quzmar’s lawyer before the interrogation process, neither he nor Quzmar knew the reasons behind his detention. “They [Israel] don’t give any information besides that he is detained for suspicions that he is a security threat to Israel,” Odeh told Palestine Monitor. “They will use this reason for everyone and it's never specific. When and if they convict him then they release his file,” he added.
Odeh mentioned that Quzmar was asked by his interrogators: “You are a suspected threat to Israeli security, what do you think about that?” Odeh continued, “The information regarding his arrest is in a confidential file that they are not required to release, not even to his lawyer.”
“Any student can be arrested for being involved in political blocs, because they [the blocs] are forbidden according to Israeli law,” Odeh explained. “But I also represent some students who organize non-political events, such as large parties for other students, teachers or with their departments. They have been arrested”.

According to Israeli Military Law, specified under 1945 (Defense) Emergency Regulations and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, it is illegal for students to be members of a student bloc affiliated with a political party deemed as a terrorist organization.
On May 10, as student council elections began at Birzeit, students involved in political blocs were on high alert. During this time, students actively involved in the student council or supporting political blocs on campus are often the target of arbitrary arrests and on-campus raids. For the third year in a row, the Islamic bloc, a Hamas affiliated list of candidates, won the majority of seats at the council.
Last January, Israeli forces held a night raid at BZU and confiscated computers, leaflets, flags, and brochures from the Student Union Offices most of which belonged to the Islamic Bloc.

Birzeit is known as being one of the most diverse campuses in Palestine, as it is situated in the heart of the occupied West Bank. BZU has long been an important institution when it comes to youth activism. Its name is therefore also linked to subsequent arrests.
Samidoun’s statement calling for Quzmar's freedom was signed and endorsed by a multitude of organizations abroad expressing solidarity with Quzmar and Palestinian students, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestinian Youth Movement.

Bringing greater awareness to the issue of Palestinian prisoners, a 40-day mass hunger strike held by more than 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners ended last Saturday after some of the prisoners' demands were met.

Quzmar, alongside 500 other Palestinians, remain in administrative detention, without knowing the charges against them, and without access to a fair trial. 

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