On May 15, 2014, University of Haifa officials announced the suspension of two students who held an on campus protest, after the university rejected their request for a permit to hold an event marking Nakba Day, which commemorates Palestinian dispossession during the founding of the State of Israel.
Nakba Day, which coincides with Israeli Independence Day, is observed by many Palestinians as a day of mourning. In 2011, Israel enacted a law imposing fines on public institutions who hold Nakba Day events. The following year, the University of Haifa began prohibiting students from holding such events on campus. In May 2014, two student groups, Abnaa el-Balad (Sons of the Village) and Hadash, sought permits to hold campus Nakba Day events on May 12. The university denied their request, citing safety concerns. A group of students nevertheless held a small demonstration on that same day, to protest the decision, as well as the three-year long policy prohibiting Nakba Day events.
The day after the protest, Abnaa el-Balad and Al-Jabha Balad, another Palestinian student group, were banned from on campus activities for the remainder of the semester. In addition, the university’s Dean of Students issued an order suspending the heads of those organizations, Ahmad Masalha and Tareq Yassin, from classes and further campus activities.
The Haifa District Court ordered the students returned to school a few days after they were suspended. In early June 2014, following judicial proceedings and appeals, the university entered a settlement agreement reinstating the student groups’ activities.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary restrictions on campus expression, as well as suspension of students and banning of student groups in
retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to free expression and association on campus. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State and university authorities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary suspensions and other disciplinary and administrative measures which restrict the peaceful exercise of internationally recognized rights of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association.