A snapshot of the Israeli occupation’s attacks against Birzeit University’s community (2018-2020)

Ever since Birzeit became a university in 1972, its community — faculty, staff, and students — has been under constant harassment by the Israeli occupation. The university’s first president, Dr. Hanna Nasir, was deported in 1974, spending the next 20 years managing the university’s affairs from abroad, while the university’s campus, protected under international laws and conventions, has been forcibly closed 15 times, the first in 1973. 

The university’s community, however, has learned to circumnavigate these attempts at banning education, organizing lectures and seminars in the homes — and, sometimes, the personal cars — of students and teachers when Israeli authorities deny entry to the campus, and coordinating efforts to ensure the continuation of education under all circumstances. 

Despite such resilience in the face of constant threats and harassment, the Israeli occupation has been escalating its attacks on the university’s community, especially in these past two years. In honor of the 2020 International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the university is highlighting the most flagrant Israeli violations against academic freedoms and the right to education between 2018 and 2020. 

The Israeli occupation is arresting Birzeit University students at an alarming rate. As of November 30, 2020, there are 56 students detained at Israeli prisons and detention centers, held under cruel conditions and facing an increased chance of being infected with the deadly coronavirus. 

Students are at risk of arrest and harassment not only outside the university’s walls, but also while traveling to and from their classes inside the campus. In March of 2018, undercover Israeli agents broke into the university’s campus in broad daylight, arrested a student, and injured two others as well as a member of staff. A year later, in March 2019, a group of Israeli operatives infiltrated the campus and arrested three students. 

Birzeit University’s faculty members, professors and researchers who are distinguished in their fields, are also targeted by the Israeli occupation. In 2020, Widad Shebli, an assistant professor of media, had her home razed by Israeli bulldozers after she was detained and placed under house arrest, while Abdallah Abu Khalil, a lecturer of pharmacy, had parts of his house torn down. 

This aggressive policy extends to international instructors and professors who come to teach and carry out research at Birzeit University. The Israeli authorities have refused to grant or extend visas for international faculty members without any justification, disrupting the academic journeys of our students and impeding many research projects. 

Since 2019, five international faculty members had to leave their positions at Birzeit University due to this unjustified policy, while professors and instructors at 12 of the university’s academic departments are at risk of deportation if this discriminatory visa regime goes on unchecked and unchallenged. 

These actions and policies by the Israeli occupation disrupt the university’s ability to provide quality education to thousands of Palestinian students and deny Palestinian researchers the chance to advance communities locally, regionally, and internationally. The university calls on local and international academic, civil-society, and human-rights institutions to raise awareness of these issues and demand that the Israeli occupation put an immediate stop to all such actions that undermine education in Palestine.