Imprisoned Palestinian student leader Omar Kiswani on hunger strike for freedom

Omar Kiswani

Imprisoned Palestinian student leader Omar Kiswani is on hunger strike in Israeli prison in protest against his ongoing detention without charge and interrogation. Kiswani is the president of the Student Council at Bir Zeit University and was seized on 7 March when undercover Israeli occupation forces invaded the university campus, pretending to be journalists. They carried firearms in backpacks, entering the university campus during school hours and then attacked Kiswani in front of the Student Council Building in the center of the university campus.

Meanwhile, an occupation army unit detained all of the university’s guards in the guard room; the kidnapping unit used their weapons to threaten the student body as they dragged Kiswani from campus in the violent attack.

The attack on the university has been condemned by an array of institutions; it comes as one of a number of repeated invasions of Palestinian university campuses, especially in order to attack student councils and elected student blocs and organizations. Active students are repeatedly targeted for arrest and imprisonment and it has been estimated that at Bir Zeit University alone, over 60 Palestinian students are held in Israeli prisons. There are approximately 340 Palestinian university students jailed by the Israeli occupation.

“This act is a violation of the civilian nature of universities and educational institutions, especially that this is not the first time an Israeli army unit has raided Birzeit University’s campus, as it had done on numerous occasions and confiscated media paraphernalia belonging to student political parties, equipment, and computers,” said Sarah Pritchett of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate denounced the impersonation of journalists in order to carry out a violent attack on a student political leader.

Dozens of student union officers at UK universities signed on to a statement denouncing the raid, labeling it “the most recent example of Israel’s long-term and systematic assault on the Palestinian right to education.”  “We, Friends of Birzeit University and student union officers in the UK, believe that we have a duty to take a stand against injustice and oppression. We stand in solidarity with Palestinian students denied their right to education and support their demands to live and study in an environment free from the violent practices of Israel’s occupation,” the statement continued.

Since being seized from campus on 7 March, Kiswani has been held at the notorious Moskobiya detention center in Jerusalem under interrogation. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society stated that Kiswani is being interrogated 18 hours daily and has been prevented from seeing his lawyer since his arrest; his detention was extended by another week on Thursday, 22 March.

Students at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK held a protest on 20 March in which they demanded the release of Kiswani and other student prisoners, expressing their solidarity with Palestinian students under occupation. The protesting students then attended an event with rapper Lowkey carrying Palestinian flags and signs calling for the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners.

Photo: Sheffield Hallam University Palestine Society

Kiswani announced that he had begun his hunger strike on 19 March against his interrogation and imprisonment, demanding his immediate release. He is not the only Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike: Musaab al-Hindi has been on hunger strike for 15 days in protest of the renewal of his administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial; Bashir al-Khatib, imprisoned since 1988 and from occupied Palestine ’48, has been on hunger strike for 14 days to demand medical care; Adel Shehadeh, held in Jalameh detention center, has been on hunger strike for 12 days against his torture under interogation; and Saleh Abu Sawawin from Khan Younis has been on hunger strike for three days against his isolation in Ramon prison.