Israel raids Birzeit University, arrests students

| Tamara Nassar pour The Electronic Intifada |

Israeli forces stormed the Birzeit University campus in the occupied West Bank disguised as Palestinians on Tuesday, and abducted three students.

“The kidnappers entered the campus breaking the university’s main gate with a special machine, broke into the room that contains automated teller machines close to the student council building, and arrested Hamza Abu Qaraa, Udai Nakhla and Tawfiq Abu Arqoub,” the university said.

Local media circulated pictures of the students following their arrest, as well as photos of damage caused during the raid.

Abu Arqoub had been taking refuge on his university’s campus since late last month to avoid arrest by Palestinian Authority forces which work closely with Israel, according to Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer.

Abu Arqoub has been detained several times by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, severely disrupting his university education for years.

Birzeit condemned the abduction of its students, calling the Israeli raid a “direct violation of the sanctity of universities and a blatant attack on the right to education, guaranteed by all international laws and conventions.”

“The assault on Palestinian academic institutions by the Israeli occupation forces is a result of the widespread culture of impunity within the occupation authorities,” Addameer stated.

On Wednesday, Birzeit students protested the arrest of their peers and rallied to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in the Naqab.

Undercover

A year ago, undercover agents from Israel’s Border Police disguised as journalists stormed into Birzeit and beat and arrested Omar Kiswani, the head of the student council.

The Israeli agents injured students by gunfire during the incursion.

The undercover Israeli agents – so-called mistaravim – dress up as Palestinians to abduct, injure and infiltrate groups of civilians, often during protests against Israel’s military occupation.

Israel has even used mistaravim to kidnap and kill Palestinians inside hospitals.

Attacks on schools

Last week, Israeli bulldozers demolished a building in al-Razi school in Shuafat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem on the pretext that it was built without permits as well as “security reasons” (see video here).

Israeli forces attacked and beat the school’s principal, Saleh Alqam, teachers and residents during the demolition.

Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build on their own land in East Jerusalem, forcing them to build to meet housing and other needs in defiance of occupation orders.

Alqam said the school received no prior warning that the building would be demolished, according to Safa Palestinian Press Agency.

The Israeli municipality ruling occupied East Jerusalem demanded the school stop construction last November, also on the pretext of security, and Alqam said that the construction indeed stopped.

He added that he was able to prove to an Israeli court, through aerial images and maps, that the building had existed for about 45 years and was undergoing repairs and appealed to stop the demolition.

But the request was denied.

The school was supposed to be ready in early September to accommodate 400 students, in hopes of easing the shortage of classrooms and educational spaces for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, dozens of Israeli settlers tried to break into two schools in the town of Tuqu near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Teachers and villagers managed to prevent the settlers from entering the schools, despite how soldiers protecting the settlers used crowd control weapons against them.

“The village’s schools, which are adjacent to a road used by settlers, have been repeatedly attacked by settlers and Israeli soldiers,” the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported.

There has been a marked increase in occupation-related violence in or near Palestinian schools in the West Bank during the current academic year.

Attacks on the press

Meanwhile, Israel is seeking to forcibly exile photojournalist Mustafa al-Kharouf, 33, after a prolonged detention.

Al-Kharouf, who works for Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, was arrested from his home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz on 22 January, and was taken to the Givon prison in Ramle in present-day Israel where asylum-seekers and others facing expulsion are usually held.

In February, an Israeli court denied him family reunification citing “security grounds” and ordered him forcibly exiled to Jordan, his lawyer Adi Lustigman told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Al-Kharouf has no ties to Jordan.

“Even as his lawyer, I am not allowed access to the information on which the interior ministry has based its refusal to grant him family reunification, because that is the way the legal system works with regard to security cases,” Lustigman said.

But the lawyer told CPJ that the questioning during al-Kharouf’s family reunification hearing focused on a photo he had taken and posted to his Facebook page depicting graffiti critical of Israel.

The day before his arrest, al-Kharouf had appealed to regularize his status in occupied East Jerusalem, where he has been since he was 12 years old. Al-Kharouf was born in Algeria to a Palestinian father and an Algerian mother but he is not a citizen of any country, according to CPJ.

Under Israel’s discriminatory occupation regime, any Israeli Jewish settler is free to move to occupied East Jerusalem and the settlements surrounding it.

Meanwhile, Israel treats Jerusalem’s indigenous Palestinian population and their extended families as if they were foreign permanent residents, subjecting them to “family reunification” and residency proceedings that have been used to break families apart and force thousands out of the city.

Arresting artist

Meanwhile, Israel arrested Palestinian designer and activist Hafez Omar on 13 March and has held him without charge or access to a lawyer since.

In 2012, Omar designed iconic images to draw attention to hunger strikes by political prisoners, especially Khader Adnan. The images were widely used in social media solidarity campaigns.

An Israeli military court rejected Omar’s appeal against the extension of his detention, and he remains in the Ashkelon interrogation center, according to Addameer.

“Addameer’s lawyer informed the court of his serious concerns that Hafez might be undergoing mistreatment or torture,” the group stated.

Israel also extended the administrative detention of Ayman Nasser, the legal coordinator for Addameer, who was detained by occupation forces last September.

Nasser, 48, was issued an administrative detention order shortly after his arrest, and it was renewed again earlier this month.

This means he will be held without charge or trial for at least six more months.