Five Palestinian student leaders at Birzeit University seized by Israeli occupation forces

UPDATE as of 10 am Pacific time, 10 January: Abdel-Hafez Sharabati and Waleed Harazneh were released; Mohammed Khatib, Ismail Barghouthi and Qassem Nakhleh remain imprisoned. Free all Palestinian students! 

Israeli occupation forces arrested five Palestinian student leaders outside the East Gate of the Birzeit University campus on Monday, 10 January 2022, sparking protest and outrage at the ongoing attacks on Palestinian student life. Occupation special forces violently stormed the campus with a combined force of undercover/disguised units carrying handguns and fully armed soldiers, opening fire on Palestinian students with live ammunition. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network urges student organizations and supporters of Palestine everywhere to organize, take action and campaign to free these five students and the hundreds of Palestinian students jailed by the Israeli occupation.

They seized five student leaders: Ismail Barghouthi, coordinator of the Islamic Bloc; Waleed Harazneh, coordinator of the Student Unity Bloc; Abdel-Hafez Sharabati, coordinator of the Progressive Student Union; Mohammed Khatib, representing the Progressive Democratic Student Pole (al Qutob); and Qassem Nakhleh, also of the Islamic Bloc.

Occupation forces came up behind the students as they were arriving at the university and opened fire on them before shoving them to the ground. The disguised soldiers drove what appeared to be a van delivering goods, while soldiers in full gear were concealed in the rear of the van. Ismail Barghouthi was shot in the thigh and taken to the hospital, and Qassem Nakhleh and Abdel-Hafez Sharabati were also injured by the colonialist soldiers’ violent assault.

All five student leaders have been part of the ongoing student mobilizations and protests challenging the university administration over its investigation and sanctioning of Palestinian student leaders and organizations for organizing and participating in campus events in December 2021 in support of the Palestinian resistance.

The university was closed for classes today due to the ongoing student protests demanding changes from the university administration and an end to policies of subservience to the demands of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority — via “security coordination” — to clamp down on student activism and organizing on campus.

All five of the arrested students are part of the leadership of the student movement. Today, they were specifically heading to campus in order to meet with the Workers’ Union at Birzeit University to discuss the ongoing protests and calls for action. Instead of holding this meeting between the student blocs and the university workers, the student leaders were fired on with live ammunition, injured and seized by Israeli occupation forces.

They traveled together to the university as they had just departed from the solidarity sit-in in Ramallah in support of Palestinian prisoner Nasser Abu Hamid, currently in a coma due to advanced cancer and dying in an Israeli occupation hospital.

The arrests of the five student leaders have sparked outrage at the ongoing policy of the Israeli occupation to attack and suppress Palestinian student organizing, and also at the Birzeit University administration and the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s role in “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation has included widespread recent arrests of Palestinian students, during which they were subjected to torture and questioned about their role in the student movement at Birzeit.

By sanctioning student leaders and bringing them before a special committee for potential discipline after the organizing of Palestinian national events on campus, Birzeit University administration has also been complicit in the criminalization and repression of the students, noted Palestinian student blocs following the arrests. While the university condemned the attack on its campus, the comments below its statement on social media repeatedly noted that the university had failed in its obligation to protect the students and support their rights.

Student blocs demanded that the university implement the demands of the student movement to support Palestinian national organizing on campus and to stop the investigatory committees against student leaders in order to take a clear position against these occupation attacks. The Islamic Bloc noted that the student movement is committed to standing firm against all attempts to weaken the university as a site of Palestinian struggle, by the occupation itself and by those acting in subordination to the demands of the Israeli regime.

Students are currently demonstrating outside the gates of the university and have called for a protest on Tuesday, 11 January in support of the student movement and to free the imprisoned student leaders.

Hundreds of Palestinian university students are detained by the Israeli occupation. At Birzeit University alone, 55 students were arrested in 2021 and there are 66 students currently held in Israeli occupation prisons, including 8 held without charge or trial under administrative detention. They are among over 4,500 total Palestinian political prisoners jailed by the Israeli occupation regime.

The #FreePalestinianStudents campaign mobilizes over 300 organizations around the world to defend Palestinian students from political imprisonment and demand their freedom.

We join together to call for action and support for Palestinian students behind bars, including: 

  • Boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, including Israeli academic institutions, which are fully complicit in the systematic deprivation of Palestinian rights.
  • Ending all military and economic aid, military transactions, joint projects and direct funding to the Israeli occupation regime by governments around the world.
  • Challenging “normalization” programs that aim to legitimize Israeli occupation — this is an attempt to legitimize the criminalization and targeting of Palestinian students.
  • Organizing to build direct links of solidarity with Palestinian students and the Palestinian student movement, to ensure that they will not be isolated from their global community of support despite all attempts by the Israeli occupation.