On May 17, 2022, the eve of student elections at Birzeit University, undercover Israeli forces arrested eight senior members of the Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc, after which one of the detained students was then beaten in prison. Israeli forces also reportedly sent several other Birzeit University students and their families threatening messages that characterized their affiliation with and potential votes for the Islamic bloc as illegal.
Several hours after a student debate was held, special undercover unit of Israeli forces comprised of roughly ten plainclothes men reportedly began arresting Mu’tasim Zalloum, Abdul Rahman Alawi, Muhammad Al-Fateh, Muhammad Arman, Wissam Turki, Dia Zalloum, Abdul Majeed Hassan, and Amin Farah in Dura Al-Qura village. Some minutes after the undercover forces arrived, Israeli soldiers in uniform joined and offered support. An eyewitness who spoke with Middle East Eye stated that the students were beaten and tied up in the process of the arrest. Further, Mu’tasim Zalloum was held separately from the rest of the group and detained alongside members of the opposing bloc, who physically assaulted him to the point that he had to go to the prison infirmary. Hamas has asserted that the attack on Zalloum was intentional. Birzeit University’s chairman of the Preparatory Committee for Elections and dean of student affairs, Iyad Tomar, told Middle East Eye that “the detentions are an attempt by the army to obstruct the elections and put pressure on the university’s students.” Regardless of these efforts, the Islamic bloc won the elections.
Prior to the arrests, several other Islamic bloc students and their families had reportedly received threatening text messages from the Israeli military which warned against participating in polls and voting for the Islamic bloc.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the intimidation, detention, and physical assault of students, apparently for their political affiliation and exercise of their right to freedom of expression – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which both Israel and Palestine are parties. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking action to restrict or punish expressive and political activity, so long as it is peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the intimidation, detention, and assault of students undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.