Israeli attacks on Al Quds University give new meaning to ‘academic freedom’

Close to 13,000 Palestinian and international students go through at least one of 600 checkpoints in the West Bank to attend Al Quds University, the only Arab University in East….

Close to 13,000 Palestinian and international students go through at least one of 600 checkpoints in the West Bank to attend Al Quds University, the only Arab University in East Jerusalem. Established in 1984, the Abu Dis campus now houses 14 academic faculties, and has more than 21 centers and institutes, including the critically acclaimed Abu Jihad Museum for Prisoner Movement Affairs. Besides having a museum dedicated to Palestinian political prisoners on campus, Al Quds University is unique for another controversial reason: the campus community is under constant threat due to methodical and ideologically-based attacks by the Israeli military.

During 2012, 2013 and 2014, the total number of attacks on Al-Quds University main campus was 31. During these attacks 2473 people were injured, 5121 teargas canisters and bullets were shot, and 276 people were called by the Israeli intelligence for investigation.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, 640 lectures were cancelled. Palestinian Red Crescent volunteers treated over 830 students for tear gas suffocation injuries through a service facilitated and partly funded by the university’s Student Affairs Office. 1000 students cancelled their registration attendance and over 12,000 students evacuated from the university 3 times throughout the year due to Israeli state-inflicted violence on the campus.

The latest mass-scale attack occurred on September 7th, 2014 when close to 70 Israeli soldiers surrounded the university with 15 military trucks in an attempt to provoke, agitate, and instill fear in the student body, staff, faculty, and surrounding community.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, 60 students were detained and arrested for their political affiliation and activities inside the university. 15 students were arrested on their way to class (on University street). 3 students were arrested at flying (temporary) checkpoints and 9 students were taken into custody to be held in administrative detention indefinitely. To date, over 190 Al Quds University students have been detained in administrative detention indefinitely and some have been detained for up to 13 years, with the majority being held with no official charges.

There has been tense debate on American college campuses in the last few years about academic freedom, specifically concerning the right of professors, students, and various other members of campus communities to directly speak in favor of or against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. However, whereas academia in the United States is largely engaging in a war of rhetoric, academia at Al Quds University is facing a war of social and academic disruption, which has severely limited, and in some cases, completely ended the academic pursuit for hundreds, if not thousands of people, since the university’s inception.

Kamilah Moore was a delegate on the third Interfaith Peace-Builders African Heritage delegation. The African Heritage Delegation program seeks to connect US African American leaders, media-makers and organizers with communities of color in Palestine/Israel to identify common issues and forge relationships. To learn more about Interfaith Peace-Builders see here.