The detention by Israeli authorities of Yehya Rabie, the pro-Hamas president of the Student Council at Birzeit University, represents a continuing policy of aggressively stifling students and professors who support the Islamist group at Palestinian universities, academic and human-rights organizations say.
Recently, the leading organization representing American academics in Middle Eastern studies, the Middle East Studies Association of North America, issued a public letter protesting the arrest of Rabie and others at universities in the occupied Palestinian territories over the past year.
The statement by the Academic Freedom Committee of the Middle East Studies Association of North America was published January 22 and signed by MESA’s president, Judith Tucker, and the committee’s chair, Laurie Brand. It is addressed to Benyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel; several other ministers in his cabinet; and the Israeli officer in charge of the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
“We write to you … to urge a halt to the Israeli army and security forces conducting arbitrary arrests at and incursions into Palestinian universities, assaulting students, faculty, and staff and obstructing the education of thousands of students,” the letter begins.
The letter focuses on the case of Yehya Rabie, a third-year student of business and economics at Birzeit, which is near Ramallah in the West Bank. He was elected president of the Birzeit University Student Council last spring.
Rabie was arrested at his home on November 19 during an early-morning raid on his village by Israeli forces, according to a Palestinian news report.
He and others were accused of “suspected involvement in terror activity,” the MESA statement says. It adds, “These arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial are not the exception but the rule.”
Rabie represented the al-Wafaa Islamic Bloc, a political group affiliated with the Islamist party Hamas.
Student Council elections at Birzeit and other Palestinian universities are seen as an indicator of political sentiment in the occupied territories. Three political factions are usually in contention in these elections: an Islamist faction supporting the Islamic Resistance Movement known as Hamas, which holds control in the Gaza Strip; a faction representing the Fatah movement, which is dominant in the West Bank; and a faction sympathetic to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP.
Carmen Keshek, the Birzeit spokeswoman, said that in elections held in the spring of 2018 the al-Wafaa bloc won 25 of the Student Council’s 51 seats, ahead of 23 seats for the Fatah bloc and four for the PFLP bloc.