West Bank university on front line as student activism row boils over

Students walk on the campus of Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, West Bank. (Facebook/Birzeit University)
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Updated 06 February 2022

West Bank university on front line as student activism row boils over

  • Protests leave future of 15,000 Birzeit University students in the balance

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK: Mohammed Khweis, 21, was enjoying his studies and looking forward to completing his course at Birzeit University’s College of Business Administration, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Now the third-year student from East Jerusalem has a very different outlook following sit-ins and violent protests by representatives of student blocs that have disrupted classes and forced the university to close at least once.

The protests have left students unable to complete their coursework and the academic future of 15,000 pupils hanging in the balance.

Khweis was used to traveling almost 40 km daily to the university and returning home at the end of the day — but now spends his days sleeping and nights playing cards with friends.

“I am bored and worried that this situation will continue,” he told Arab News.

Even in these circumstances, Khweis is not in a position to look for temporary work because he cannot predict when the university will reopen and students will be able to resume their studies.

The crisis escalated when the university administration — concerned that protest activities could be used as an excuse by Israeli armed forces to invade the institution — prevented Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine representatives from displaying cartoon rockets on campus during a march to celebrate the anniversaries of their political parties on Dec. 13-14.

However, politically affiliated students rejected the decision and accused the administration of imposing restrictions on freedom of political expression on the campus.

The dispute led to a temporary closure of the university, with students and academic staff prevented from entering the facility.

In the wake of the row, student activists are demanding that the university administration fire the vice president and the acting dean of students’ affairs.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, the university’s vice president, told Arab News on Friday that people are worried about their children’s academic future.

“Students have the right to sit and strike, practice freedom of expression and hold elections, but not through methods that have a high price,” Al-Khatib said.

“It is unreasonable to disrupt the educational process and mortgage the interests of 15,000 students to demands that can be achieved by other means without causing losses, such as closing the university,” he added.

“Academic and cultural institutions are not the place for military parades.” 

Despite prominent Palestinian civil society institutions attempting to mediate between the university administration and student representatives, the students insist their demands be met.

Nader Oweidat, 23, a political science and international relations student, and the coordinator of the Islamic bloc at Birzeit University, claimed that “we do not like to close the university.”

But he told Arab News that the university administration had appointed an acting dean of student affairs “who took advantage of her position in an attempt to domesticate the student movement at the university.”

He added: “This is unacceptable, so we have clear demands for her dismissal.”

Oweidat said that Birzeit University enjoys unparalleled freedoms in comparison with other Palestinian universities, “and we want to preserve that democratic and pluralistic atmosphere.”

With the dispute threatening the academic year of 15,000 students, families have begun to voice their frustration with student representatives’ “irresponsible position.”

Mahmoud Khweis, father of university student Mohammed, told Arab News: “I do not trust the students’ ability and their future vision to maintain Birzeit University’s scientific position in Palestine and the world. We should not allow them to be responsible for the future of the university.”

The general rights of students are more important than the individual rights of a small group, he said.

Khweis said that the Palestinian police should reopen the university’s doors, and allow both students and teachers to resume the educational process.

The role of student activists should be limited to helping students reduce educational fees and solving their academic problems, and not engaging in political work on campus, he said.

The Birzeit University campus is the only West Bank arena left for the Hamas movement to stage its political activities freely.

However, Owaidat said: “While the university administration tolerated Fatah activists in the university organizing a military parade with real weapons, it was annoyed by the presentation of the Qutub (PFLP) and the Islamic bloc (Hamas) with cartoon models of rockets.”

The Palestinian Authority asked Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister Mahmoud Abu Muwais on Jan. 31 to communicate with the university administration and student representatives in a bid to solve the dispute.

However, some believe that the government’s influence is minimal since Birzeit University is a private entity, unlike other Palestinian universities. 

Birzeit University was established in 1972 as a private institution. It has become one of the oldest Palestinian universities, and is characterized by a liberal atmosphere and policies that allow freedom for various student activities.

Many prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, including Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh.

The university awards a bachelor’s degree in dozens of subjects, a second degree in 35 subjects, and a third doctorate in two subjects. It also maintains academic relations with many prestigious universities in Europe and the US. 

“We get used to seeing the Israeli occupation closing the university and not its students,” Khweis said.

“We should raise our voices in the face of those students from a young generation and tell them what they are doing is wrong.”


Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media

Updated 14 sec ago

Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media

TEHRAN: Iran said Monday it is examining a “final text” presented by the European Union at the negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
“As soon as we received these ideas, we conveyed our initial response and considerations... but naturally, these items require a comprehensive review, and we will convey our additional views and considerations,” state news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.
The comments came after a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the EU has tabled the “final” version of the text, negotiations are finished, “and it will not be renegotiated.”
Talks aimed at reviving the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program resumed on Thursday in Vienna, months after they had stalled.
Iranian sources have suggested an International Atomic Energy Agency probe is a key sticking point in reviving the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
But the European official said: “That has nothing to do with” the JCPOA.
Iran on Sunday said the IAEA should “completely” resolve the issues related to questions over nuclear material at its undeclared sites.
The IAEA’s board of governors adopted a resolution in June, censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three previously undeclared sites.
The Iranian foreign ministry official added on Monday that, during the talks of the past few days, “we shared our positions with the other sides, and relative progress was made in some issues.”
He added that the negotiating team looks to “protecting the rights and interests of the Iranian nation” as well as “ensuring the benefits and guaranteeing the sustainable implementation of the other party’s obligations and preventing the repetition of US illegal behavior.”
The negotiations to revive the deal began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.

Gaza crossing opens as truce holds between Israel, Islamic Jihad

Updated 08 August 2022

Gaza crossing opens as truce holds between Israel, Islamic Jihad

  • Trucks passed from Israel through Kerem Shalom goods crossing to southern Gaza
  • The arrival of vital supplies follows the start of a cease-fire at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s sole power plant also restarted Monday after fuel trucks passed from Israel into the Palestinian enclave following the start of truce ending three days of deadly conflict, the electricity company said.

“The plant has started working to generate electricity,” Mohammed Thabet, spokesman for the company, told AFP. The plant had shut on Saturday after running out of fuel following Israel's closure of the goods crossing. 

An AFP journalist at the goods crossing to southern Gaza saw trucks loaded with fuel enter the enclave, ending a severe shortage which had prompted the only power station there to shut down Saturday.

The arrival of vital supplies follows the start of a cease-fire at 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Sunday to stem the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year devastated the Palestinian coastal territory. 

Gaza’s health ministry said 15 children were among 44 people killed in three days of intense fighting.

Despite a flurry of strikes and rocket attacks in the run-up to the truce, neither side had reported any major violations of the agreement overnight.

The Israeli military said roads would gradually reopen in the border area on Monday.

“It was decided to gradually lift the restrictions,” which have seen Israelis living near Gaza remain close to their bomb shelters, the army said.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the cease-fire and thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his country’s role in brokering it.

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said in a statement: “The situation is still very fragile, and I urge all parties to observe the cease-fire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office late Sunday thanked “Egypt for its efforts” as it agreed to the truce, but said that “if the cease-fire is violated,” Israel “maintains the right to respond strongly.”

Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group designated as a terrorist organization by several Western nations, also accepted the truce but said it too “reserves the right to respond” to any aggression.

Starting on Friday, Israel had launched a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, leading the militants to fire hundreds of rockets in retaliation.

In addition to those killed, Gazan health officials said 360 people had been wounded in the Palestinian enclave, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.

A senior Israeli diplomatic official said Monday that “most of the civilians that were killed in Gaza were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets” that fell short or misfired.

Three people in Israel were wounded by shrapnel, while 31 others were lightly hurt while running for safety, emergency services said.

Islamic Jihad member Mohammad Al-Hindi said the cease-fire deal “contains Egypt’s commitment to work toward the release of two prisoners.”

They were named as Bassem Al-Saadi, a senior figure in the group’s political wing who was recently arrested in the occupied West Bank, and Khalil Awawdeh, a militant also in Israeli detention.

Gaza resident Nour Abu Sultan, 29, said the three days of conflict were “terrifying,” and that she had been unable to sleep during the “shelling and rockets, the sound of aircraft above us.”

Dalia Harel, a resident of the Israeli town of Sderot close to the Gaza border, said she was “disappointed” at news of a truce Sunday despite her five children being “traumatized.”

“We’re tired of having a military operation every year,” she said. “We need our military and political leaders to get it over with once and for all... we’re not for war, but we can’t go on like this.”

Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas but often acts independently. Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict in May last year.

Israel has said it was necessary to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against Islamic Jihad, while the diplomatic official said the group had been planning an attack by sniper fire or with anti-tank missiles.

The army has killed senior leaders of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Taysir Al-Jabari and Khaled Mansour.

The senior Israeli diplomatic official said Islamic Jihad had been dealt “a very serious blow” which had “taken them back decades.”

Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Updated 08 August 2022

Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Saudi Arabia calls on international community to end escalation, protect Palestinians
  • Israel's Gaza bombardment earlier this week killed over 40 Palestinians

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday condemned Israeli settlers storming Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, in what the Kingdom called a “serious violation of international law.”

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to end the escalation and provide the necessary protection for Palestinian civilians.

The Kingdom said the attack violated the sanctity of the holy sites in Jerusalem, which contributes to exacerbating tensions and prolonging violence, amid escalations in Gaza that killed over 40 Palestinians and injured scores more this week.

Jordan, the custodian of the site, urged Israel to respect the sanctity of the compound and to “halt measures aimed at altering the historical and legal status quo.”

In a statement published on Petra news agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates’ spokesperson Haitham Abu Alfoul stressed that running the affairs of the holy site was exclusively under the jurisdiction of Jordanian-run Waqf (endowments) and al-Aqsa Affairs Administration in Jerusalem.

Abu Alfoul described Israel’s actions as a “violation of the historical and legal status quo and international law” and said it is a disrespect to the authority of the administration.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it held the Israeli government fully and directly responsible for its ongoing aggression against Christian and Islamic holy sites, the foremost of which was Al-Aqsa, and for the danger posed to and repercussions for the entire region.

A statement issued by the Islamic Awqaf (affiliated with Jordan and in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque) and signed by other Islamic commissions in Jerusalem stated: “Barbarism, no matter how much, will not change the reality of the Islamic mosque.”

It said the Islamic bodies and authorities stress their adherence to and support for the guardianship of King Abdullah II over Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said the “provocative practices” are part of the attempts to alter the historical and legal status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on the international community to halt Israel’s attempts to transform the ongoing conflict into a “religious war.”

The ministry said the provocative violations that coincide with the recent attacks on Gaza will lead to “a dangerous escalation of violence.”  

Kuwait condemned the Israeli actions as an attempt to change the historical and legal status of Al-Quds and its sanctities.

In a statement, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the attacks would increase violence and tension and threaten the stability of the region. 

Kuwait also called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to curb these attacks, put an end to them and provide protection for the Palestinian people and their sanctities.

The Muslim World League also condemned the storming of the mosque, saying it was a serious violation of international resolutions and laws.

The League and its international councils, bodies and councils denounced the “dangerous escalation” that impacts on the sanctity of Islamic sites.

The chairman of the African Union commission also condemned Israeli “airstrike attacks” in the Gaza Strip as violence escalates in the troubled region.

“Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the continued airstrike attacks by Israel on Gaza,” an AU statement said.

The “targeting of civilians and the continued illegal occupation by Israeli security forces of the Occupied Territories, are in stark violation of international law, and complicate the search for a just and lasting solution,” the statement said.

Iran: Police arrest Afghan suspected of stabbing 10 to death

Updated 08 August 2022

Iran: Police arrest Afghan suspected of stabbing 10 to death

  • According to the report, the suspect was mentally unbalanced
  • Violent acts have escalated in recent years in Iran as the country’s economic conditions deteriorate

TEHRAN: Police in Iran arrested an Afghan man suspected of stabbing 10 other farm laborers to death following a quarrel over land, Iranian state media reported Monday. The rampage in a remote village in southeastern Iran was a rare such incident in the Islamic Republic.
The official IRNA news agency said four Iranians and six Afghans were killed, and one farm worker was wounded in the rampage on Sunday and was in hospital. According to the report, the suspect was mentally unbalanced.
A decades-long drought in Iran has caused increased disputes over water resources and land with better access to water. Hunting rifles are the only weapon that Iranians are allowed to possess legally.
Violent acts have escalated in recent years in Iran as the country’s economic conditions deteriorate amid crushing American sanctions that helped spark soaring inflation and increasing unemployment.
In May, an employee fired from one of Iran’s largest state-owned financial conglomerates went on a shooting rampage at his former workplace in western Iran, killing three people and wounding five before turning the gun on himself.
In 2016, a 26-year-old man gunned down 10 relatives and wounded four others.

US President Biden welcomes Gaza truce

Updated 08 August 2022

US President Biden welcomes Gaza truce

  • Israeli bombardment in Gaza has left 44 Palestinians dead over the past couple of days
  • Biden laments death, injury of civilians in Gaza but refrains from assigning responsibility

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Sunday welcomed a truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad aimed at ending days of bombardment in Gaza, urging all parties to implement it fully.
The president said in a statement that Washington had worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and various countries in the region to “encourage a swift resolution to the conflict” over the previous three days.
“We also call on all parties to fully implement the cease-fire, and to ensure fuel and humanitarian supplies are flowing into Gaza as the fighting subsides,” Biden added.
The president also lamented the injury and death of civilians in Gaza, but did not specify who was responsible. The violence has left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children.
“The reports of civilian casualties in Gaza are a tragedy, whether by Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad positions or the dozens of Islamic Jihad rockets that reportedly fell inside Gaza,” Biden said.
Since Friday, Israel has carried out heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, with the group’s fighters firing hundreds of rockets in retaliation.
Buildings in Gaza have been reduced to rubble, while Israelis have been forced to shelter from a barrage of rockets.
“As I made clear during my recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians both deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” added Biden, who traveled to the region last month.