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: December 23, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Birzeit University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Palestine (OPT)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 23, 2020, the Israeli Ofer Military Court sentenced Birzeit University student Elia Abu Hijleh to eleven months in prison on charges of belonging to a “prohibited student group.”

On July 1, 2020, the Israeli Defense Force reportedly detained twenty-six Palestinians, including Hijleh, in a series of house raids throughout the West Bank. Hijleh was arrested at her home in the city of Ramallah.

On October 21, the Israeli Defense Force announced that the Democratic Progressive Student Pole, the Birzeit University student organization of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is “an illegal and terrorist organization.” Palestinian officials and student leaders condemned the announcement, raising concern that the decision would threaten student expression and enable Israeli Defense Forces to carry out more raids and arrests of students in the West Bank. In response to the announcement, Hijleh issued a letter from Damon Prison, Israel, with three other students Layan Kayed, Mays Abu Ghosh, and Ruba Assi expressing their solidarity with students at Birzeit University.

On December 23, the Israeli Ofer Military Court sentenced Hijleh to eleven months in prison on charges of belonging to the Democratic Progressive Student Pole, a “prohibited student group.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the detention and prosecution of a student in apparent retaliation for her exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against students in connection with nonviolent expression and associations. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.