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 14, 2021

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Other

Institution(s):Birzeit University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Palestine (OPT)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

Early in the morning on December 14, 2021, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) raided Birzeit University campus, assaulting guards, damaging university property, confiscating students’ belongings, and sparking violent clashes.

According to a statement by the university, roughly 100 Israeli soldiers broke through the campus’s main gate around 4:00 am on December 14. Once inside, the soldiers beat and detained several campus guards, removed the Palestinian flag from the center of campus, and conducted raids on the faculties of Science, Graduate Studies, and Pharmacy, Nursing, and Health Professions. The raid on these faculties’ buildings and other campus buildings lasted around two hours, during which some of the contents inside were damaged. Witnesses told Anadolu Agency that the soldiers also “confiscated banners and personal belongings of student [blocs] before leaving campus premises.” The raid preceded a ceremony planned for that day by the Islamic student bloc to mark the founding of Hamas, though the Jerusalem Post later reported that it was unclear whether the IDF’s actions were connected to the ceremony.

Following the raid, clashes reportedly broke out between Israeli soldiers and civilians, including students. Israeli forces fired bullets and tear gas canisters to disperse the civilians. 

Speaking with The New Arab, Dr. Ghassan Al-Khatib – deputy to the president of Birzeit University – stated that the raid was “a dangerous escalation against education in Palestine” and “directly threatens academic freedom and university life.” According to a spokesperson for the student-led Right to Education Campaign, the university has previously been subjected to Israeli raids and around 70 Birzeit University students have been placed under arrest by Israel. The spokesperson reported that the “constant harassment imposes an atmosphere of insecurity in the campus, which affects daily life at the university, including classes.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the forced entry into a higher education institution by military forces, as well as the use of violence against university personnel and students and the confiscation of and damage to property. While authorities have the right to respond to legitimate security threats, such responses must be proportionate, minimize the danger to civilians and members of the higher education community, 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.