SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 07, 2018

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Other

Institution(s):Birzeit University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Palestine (OPT)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 7, 2018, undercover Israeli armed forces reportedly entered the campus of Birzeit University in the West Bank, and arrested Omar Kiswani, President of the school’s student council, and reportedly a member of a Hamas-affiliated student group.

According to media and university sources, during daylight hours while classes were in session, the security forces entered the Birzeit campus disguised as Palestinian journalists. Just outside the student council building, they approached Mr. Kiswani, beat him, and took him into custody; some drew and aimed firearms at onlookers on campus. The university claims that the soldiers detained university security guards in the guard room on campus during the incident. Video footage appears to show Israeli soldiers firing their weapons as they exited the campus with Mr. Kiswani.

After leaving campus, the soldiers reportedly took Mr. Kiswani to an interrogation center near Jerusalem, where he remains detained as of this report. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, Mr. Kiswani was not permitted access to counsel for two weeks, during which he was interrogated multiple times. Mr. Kiswani has reportedly begun a hunger strike to protest his continued detention. As of this report, the specific charges or allegations against Mr. Kiswani remain unclear.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the entry onto campus by undercover government armed forces, as well as the violent detention of a student. While authorities have the right to respond to legitimate security threats, such responses must be proportionate, minimize the danger to civilians, and comply with relevant international humanitarian and human rights law, including law related to due process, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions harm university autonomy, academic freedom, and democratic society generally.