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.”

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Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Updated 5 sec ago

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon has submitted to the United States a list of changes it would like to see in a proposal on how to delineate a contested maritime border with Israel, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab said he had earlier that day submitted to the US ambassador in Lebanon the amendments Beirut would like to see, without providing details.


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He said he does not think the proposed changes would derail the deal and that, while the response did not signify approval of the draft, talks were so advanced that “we are done negotiating.”
Speaking to local broadcaster LBCI, he said the draft deal had been produced by thinking “outside of the box.”
“We started to talk about it as a business deal,” Bou Saab said.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.

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While that company has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE . A top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Bou Saab on Tuesday said that, according to the draft deal, Lebanon had secured all of the maritime blocs it considered its own.
He added that Lebanon will not pay one cent from its share of Qana to Israel.

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EU pushes to impose Iran sanctions over Mahsa Amini ‘killing’

Updated 04 October 2022

EU pushes to impose Iran sanctions over Mahsa Amini ‘killing’

  • Rights groups voiced concern after riot police used tear gas and paintball guns against students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology on Sunday night
  • Video footage showed detainees being taken away with fabric hoods over their heads

PARIS: The European Union said Tuesday it was weighing tough new sanctions on Iran over a lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the “killing” of Mahsa Amini, after a similar move by the United States.
Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after the notorious morality police detained the Kurdish Iranian for allegedly breaching rules requiring women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.
Anger over her death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock Iran in almost three years and a crackdown that has seen scores of protesters killed and hundreds arrested.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was considering “all the options at our disposal, including restrictive measures, to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have been responding to the demonstrations.”
It came after President Joe Biden said the United States would impose “further costs” this week on “perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters” in Iran.
Rights groups voiced deep concern after Iranian riot police used tear gas and paintball guns against hundreds of students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology on Sunday night, with video footage showing detainees being taken away with fabric hoods over their heads.
Protests also spread to schools, with video footage shared by Kurdish rights group Hengaw showing schoolgirls demonstrating in two cities in Amini’s native Kurdistan province.
“Women, Life, Freedom,” the young female protesters chanted as they marched down the central strip of a busy highway in Marivan, in footage that AFP has not independently verified.

Biden gave no indication of what measures he was considering against Iran, which is already under crippling US economic sanctions largely related to its controversial nuclear program.
Iran on Tuesday accused the US leader of “hypocrisy” in invoking human rights to impose fresh punitive measures.
“It would have been better for Mr.Joe Biden to think a little about the human rights record of his own country before making humanitarian gestures, although hypocrisy does not need to be thought through,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said in an Instagram post, reported by Iranian media.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had on Monday accused arch foes the United States and Israel of fomenting the protests.
The riots “were engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad,” Khamenei said.

The unrest has overshadowed diplomatic efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers which had come close to a breakthrough in recent months before stalling again.
But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed the “problems with Iran’s behavior” are separate from efforts to revive the nuclear deal, which Washington will pursue “as long as we believe” it is in US national security interests.
In his first public comments on Amini’s death, 83-year-old Khamenei stressed on Monday that Iranian police must “stand up to criminals.”
Khamenei said “some people, without proof or an investigation, have made the streets dangerous, burned the Qur'an, removed hijabs from veiled women and set fire to mosques and cars.”
He added that “this is not about hijab in Iran,” and that “many Iranian women who don’t observe the hijab perfectly are among the steadfast supporters of the Islamic republic.”
On Tuesday, an official said singer Shervin Hajjipour — arrested after his song “Baraye” (“For“), with lyrics taken from social media posts about the reasons people were protesting, went viral — had been released on bail.
Another 400 people arrested in the crackdown were released Tuesday “on condition of not repeating their actions,” Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals — including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland — had been arrested.
At least 92 protesters have been killed so far in the Mahsa Amini rallies, said Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, which has been working to assess the death toll despite Internet outages and blocks on WhatsApp, Instagram and other online services.
Amnesty International said earlier it had confirmed 53 deaths, after Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said last week that “around 60” people had died.
At least 12 members of the security forces have been reported killed since September 16.

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Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released

Updated 04 October 2022

Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released

  • Hajjipour rose to fame for the song “Baraye,” “For,” in which he put together messages posted on Twitter about the reasons for protests

TEHRAN: Iranian singer Shervin Hajjipour, arrested after his song in support of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini went viral, has been released on bail, an official said Tuesday.
A wave of unrest has rocked Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people — mostly protesters but also members of the security forces — and hundreds of arrests.
“Shervin Hajji Aghapour has been released on bail so that his case can go through the legal process,” Mohammad Karimi, prosecutor of the northern province of Mazandaran told Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
Rights groups outside of Iran reported his arrest last week.
Hajjipour, a 25-year-old pop singer and songwriter, rose to fame for the song “Baraye,” “For,” in which he put together messages posted on Twitter about the reasons for protests.
The emotional performance became a viral hit on different social media platforms, with millions of views within days.
It is no longer available on his Instagram account, which currently has more than 1.7 million followers.
The song featured in many videos of protests on social media, and also made its way to local media.
The ultra-conservative Tasnim news agency published its own version of the video clip, keeping Hajjipour’s voice, while changing the accompanying images into ones showing the Islamic republic’s achievements.
The agency said that its video, posted Sunday on Telegram, is meant to show “more realistic concepts of what is happening in the media battlefield,” by using “more meaningful pictures.”
Tasnim on Tuesday said Hajjipour was arrested “for showing support for the rioters and solidarity with the enemies by posting the song in social media without getting permission for it.”

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UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

Updated 04 October 2022

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

  • Adam Bouloukos said: ‘I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation. I saw fear and concern in school children’s eyes’
  • He added that the current level of violence in the camp, and across the West Bank, is at the highest level the agency has seen in years

JERUSALEM: Adam Bouloukos, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s director in the West Bank, has visited Jenin refugee camp, the Palestine News and Info Agency reported on Monday.

His visit came just days after a large-scale Israeli military assault on the camp last Wednesday that left four people dead and 44 injured.

During his visit to the camp, Bouloukos was shown an UNRWA clinic that was hit by bullets during the attack, which took place while patients and medical staff were inside. It provides healthcare services to about 35,000 people. He also visited a UNRWA school, where he met students and teachers.

“I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation,” Bouloukos said. “I saw fear and concern in schoolchildren’s eyes.

“The level of violence in Jenin camp, and across the West Bank, is the highest we have seen in years. Many Palestinians, including refugees, were killed or injured. Violence only brings loss of life, grief for families and instability.

“All parties to the conflict should protect civilians, including Palestine refugees. UN staff and facilities and civilian infrastructure must be kept out of harm’s way. I specifically call on the Israeli security forces to limit the use of excessive force and spare the loss of civilian life in Jenin and across the West Bank.”

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Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

Updated 03 October 2022

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

  • The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues

CAIRO: Egypt’s Presidential Pardon Committee has announced the release of 50 pretrial detainees.
The committee said that it had completed its procedures in coordination with the relevant agencies to release a new batch of detainees who are not involved in violence and do not belong to terrorist groups.
The committee confirmed in a statement the continuation of its work during the coming period in containing and integrating the released persons in accordance with the directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, which are implemented in coordination with state agencies and institutions.
The names of the list were announced on Twitter by MP Tarek El-Khouly, a member of the committee, which included 50 detainees who received a presidential pardon.
The committee also confirmed its aspiration for more releases.
Tariq Al-Awadi, a member of the committee, said: “We hope to speed up the pace of consideration of the remaining detainees, close this file permanently, and turn this page completely.”
Al-Awadi continued: “All that concerns me is the release of all those imprisoned in opinion cases, and I am not interested in who or what the reason for their release was.”
Last September, Egypt ordered the release of 39 pretrial detainees.
The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues.
The committee was one of the outcomes of the first National Youth Conference in 2016, where Egyptian youth addressed government leaders with presidential engagement.
In April this year, El-Sisi said during his speech at the Egyptian Family Iftar that he would reactivate the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee that was formed as one of the outcomes of the conference.
Since the committee’s formation in 2016, a variety of political parties and organizations, including the National Council for Human Rights and parliament’s Human Rights Committee, have submitted the names of prisoners who are eligible for presidential pardon consideration.

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