The Palestinians No One Talks About

News Image By Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute June 29, 2023
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While anti-Israel activism on US campuses has increased over the past two years, no one seems interested in what is happening on the campuses of Palestinian universities in the West Bank. Students are being arrested and tortured by the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

The activists leading the anti-Israel campaigns in the US appear so blinded by their hatred for Israel that they are unwilling to help the Palestinians whom they so profess to care about by commenting that the PA security forces are cracking down on Palestinian university students. 

Even if the anti-Israel activists are made aware that Palestinian students living under the PA are being hauled off and tortured by their own leaders, they are not likely to speak out because there is no way to blame Israel or hold it responsible.

The Palestinian Authority crackdown on students is also being ignored by the international media and human rights organizations that regularly attack Israel but indefatigably refuse to see any wrongdoing on the part of Palestinians. 

Many foreign journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make it their business actually to hunt for any story that reflects badly on Israel. These journalists believe that the conflict is between the good, poor Palestinian people and the bad, powerful Jews, and their reporting is usually -- and inaccurately -- based on this assumption.

Anti-Israel students on US campuses are free to spew as much hate as they want against Israel. They know that they will not get arrested or harassed by anyone. Palestinian students on Palestinian campuses in the West Bank, however, are not free to express their views or criticize the Palestinian Authority. Those who dare to criticize the PA or oppose its policies often find themselves behind bars.

The anti-Israel students and activists in the US do not care about their Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank. Why? Because the Palestinian students are not being targeted by Israel. Instead, they are being arrested and physically assaulted by the Palestinian Authority security forces.

If the Palestinian students were being arrested or harassed by Israeli security forces, the anti-Israel activists on US campuses would have screamed and called for Israel to be condemned. Yet, when Palestinian students are being targeted by Palestinian security officers, Israel-haters look the other way.

The anti-Israel activities on several campuses in the US have nothing to do with the Palestinians. They are far more about hating Israel and Jews than helping the Palestinians.

If these activists really cared about Palestinians, they would be speaking out against the arrest and torture of Palestinian students at the hands of Palestinian security forces, the need for better education, jobs and above all better, less corrupt governance for Palestinians. They would also be insisting on freedom of speech and of the press for Palestinians, and protesting the reported forcible closing of human rights groups such as Lawyers for Justice, instead of denouncing Israel day and night.

These anti-Israel activists, by the way, would be well advised to visit Israel to see the tens of thousands of Arab students attending Israeli universities and colleges. Ironically, Arab students enjoy more freedom on Israeli campuses than the students living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. 

The Arab students in Israel can demonstrate freely and even carry Palestinian flags and protest against Israeli government policies and measures, unlike their colleagues at Birzeit University and other academic institutions in the West Bank.

During the past few weeks, the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank-based governing body headed by Mahmoud Abbas, have stepped up a long-term crackdown on university students and political activists in the West Bank. The crackdown is part of an ongoing effort by the Palestinian Authority to silence and intimidate its political rivals and deter others from speaking out against Abbas and senior Palestinian officials.

The crackdown reached its peak in mid-June, when Palestinian security officers used violence to arrest Abdel Majid Hassan, chairman of the newly-elected student council at Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians. According to eyewitnesses, the officers used batons and pepper spray as they violently dragged Hassan into their car.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to say why Hassan was arrested. Palestinian sources, however, said the reason for the arrest could be Hassan's alleged affiliation with Hamas. The sources pointed out that Hassan was a member of the Islamic Bloc, a student list known for its affiliation with Hamas. 

In May, the Islamic Bloc won the elections for the student council at Birzeit University, defeating the Palestinian Authority-affiliated student list. The arrest of Hassan, the student council chairman, is likely the result of the victory of his list (Islamic Bloc) in the elections.

Hassan's sister, Shatha, accused the Palestinian security forces of torturing her brother:

"Oh God, may every blow on your body, every bruise on your face, and every pain you felt be a curse that would chase them in this world and in the Hereafter."

The Palestinian Authority, plainly speaking, which is rapidly losing credibility among its youths, appears to have difficulty accepting the results of the elections in which its supporters were defeated. That is most likely the real reason the newly-elected chairman of the student council was arrested.

Hassan, in recent weeks, was not the only student from Birzeit University to be arrested by the PA security services. At least another four students have been taken into custody for unknown reasons: Yahya Qassem, Fawzi Abu Kweik, Omar Kiswani and Obaida Qatouseh.

The mother of Yahya Qassem also accused the Palestinian security forces of torturing her son. She said that when she saw her son in a PA court for the first time since his arrest in early June, she noticed bruises all over his body, adding:

"My son deserves all love, not beatings and torture.... My son told me that he has been warned not to tell anyone about the torture [in Palestinian prison]. We live in a jungle and my son is being held in a cell where he's being tortured."

On June 17, Birzeit University students announced an "open-ended sit-in strike" on campus in protest of the arrest of their colleagues. Other students went on hunger strikes to protest the Palestinian Authority's repressive measures against their colleagues.

On June 23, four student lists at Birzeit University announced that they had decided to close the campus completely and suspend studies, including exams, to protest the arrest of their colleagues by the Palestinian Authority. A statement issued by the student lists read:

"We hold the Palestinian Authority and its security agencies responsible for the closure of the university and the safety of the detained students... We see that the Palestinian Authority has escalated its onslaught. The students reject politically motivated arrests."

On June 24, the families and colleagues of the detained students held a protest in the center of Ramallah during which they condemned the Palestinian Authority crackdown on university students.

Lawyers for Justice, a Ramallah-based independent Palestinian organization, reportedly now being forcibly shut down by the PA, said that it has documented 20 cases of arbitrary arrests by the Palestinian security forces since the beginning of June:

"The group 'Lawyers for Justice' closely monitors the alarming escalation of arbitrary arrests carried out by the Palestinian security forces. This campaign has targeted university students, political activists, and human rights defenders. Since the beginning of June, the group has documented 20 cases of arbitrary arrests, conducted by the Preventive Security Service and the General Intelligence Service."

According to the organization, 13 were arrested on the basis of political and party affiliation, six related to university election results, including the arrest of a staff member at Birzeit University, and one arrest related to freedom of opinion and expression. Lawyers for Justice added:

"The group has also noticed attempts by the security agencies to circumvent the law through attempts to legitimize detentions. Additionally, they have endangered the rights of detainees by fabricating new charges against them or re-detaining them under the pretext of review or appeal.

In addition, the group has observed the presence of signs of torture on the bodies of many detainees, and/or their testimonies before the prosecution or the court indicating that they have been subjected to torture."

The clampdown on Palestinian university students serves as yet another reminder of the double standard that the international community and media apply when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Those who are turning a blind eye to human rights violations committed by Palestinians against their own people are doing the Palestinians a terrible disservice because they are allowing these leaders to continue silencing those who risk their lives to speak out against corruption and dictatorship.

It is time to call out the anti-Israel activists on US campuses for their hypocrisy and lack of respect for Palestinian human rights. By ignoring the plight of their Palestinian colleagues who are being arrested and tortured by fellow Palestinians, the anti-Israel activists are in fact proving that they are also anti-Palestinian.

Originally published at Gatestone Insitute - reposted with permission.

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