Middle East Eye / May 25, 2023
Palestinian movement sweeps second big university in latest sign of shifting political sentiments.
The Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafa bloc won the Birzeit University’s student union election in Ramallah on Wednesday in the latest sign of shifting political sentiments in the occupied West Bank.
The Wafa bloc swept 25 seats out of the 51 in the Student Union Council, winning 49 percent of the votes and maintain a plurality of seats for the second consecutive year.
The Yasser Arafat bloc – the student arm of the Palestinian ruling party Fatah – came second, winning 39.2 percent of the votes and securing 20 seats.
The Progressive Democratic Student Pole, which is linked to the Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), won six seats.
Yahya Karout, the representative of Wafa and the former head of the student council, told local media the win came despite “restrictions, obstacles and prosecutions” imposed on the bloc’s members by Israeli forces and PA security.
“The arrests by the Palestinian security services affected more than 40 students from the Islamic bloc, while the [Palestinian] security summoned more than 100 students for investigation, but we proved ourselves and confirmed that we will remain on the covenant that the martyrs and prisoners took before us,” Karout said.
He dedicated the win to the family of Musab Shtayyeh, a Hamas member affiliated with the popular Lions’ Den resistance groups in Nablus who has been in PA custody since September.
Beshara Doumani, a Palestinian-American academic and president of Birzeit University, hailed the “democratic atmosphere” in the university after the election results were announced.
This is the second major university election won by the Hamas-affiliated student bloc this year.
Last week, the Islamic bloc won a majority of 40 seats at An-Najah University in Nablus, in the north of the West Bank, while PA’s endorsed Shabiba bloc secured 38 seats, and three seats were won by the PFLP’s bloc.
A Hamas student bloc also won the majority of seats at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron in March.
The Birzeit and An-Najah elections are considered the bellwether of West Bank politics. The results of these elections are read as a reflection of wider Palestinian society, its position on the PA, and voters’ orientations in any broader elections that may be held in the future.
Birzeit University is one of the largest education institutions in the West Bank and maintains its independence from the control of the PA.
With no general Palestinian elections on the horizon, student polls are seen as a “test for measuring public opinion” in Palestine. The last time the PA held presidential and parliamentary elections was in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scrapped elections scheduled in 2022 citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital.
But Palestinian analysts said Abbas baulked out of fear that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, would also trounce Fatah across the West Bank.
Hamas chief hails Islamic Bloc victory in Birzeit student council
Middle East Monitor / May 26, 2023
The head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, has hailed the victory of the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafa bloc in the Birzeit University’s student union election saying it represents an “extension” of the movement’s balanced presence at various levels and areas.
Speaking over the phone to participants in the celebrations organized by the bloc yesterday, Haniyeh said the victory carries three important messages including that Hamas is “unbreakable” in the West Bank and in all the homeland, and is capable of confronting the “occupier, oppression and terrorism”.
“The second message is that the bloc has proven its ability to adapt to changes, overcome complexities, and fill the void created by arrests, martyrdom, or deportation,” Haniyeh said, adding that the third message is that “participation in the elections stemmed from national competition, and on the basis of adhering to partnership with all forces and factions.”
He reiterated the movement’s adherence to holding the general presidential and legislative elections as well as those for the PLO National Council and student union elections in all universities in the Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday, the Wafa bloc won 25 seats out of the 51 in the Student Union Council in the Birzeit student union elections. Last week, the Islamic bloc won a majority of 40 seats at An-Najah National University in Nablus, in the northern occupied West Bank, while Fatah’s Shabiba bloc won 38 seats.
A Hamas linked student bloc also won the majority of seats at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron in March.
Hamas chief hails Islamic Bloc victory in Birzeit student council
West Bank: Hamas list wins key university elections
Middle East Eye / May 17, 2023
Results of student elections at An-Najah University in Nablus are read as a reflection of wider Palestinian society.
A Hamas-affiliated list has won student elections at a key West Bank university for the first time in 16 years, in the latest sign of dwindling support for the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Islamic bloc secured 40 seats out of 81 available in the student council of Nablus’ An-Najah National University on Wednesday.
Its main rival, the “Shabiba” bloc – the student arm of the PA’s ruling party, Fatah – won 38 seats, while three seats went to a list linked with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The An-Najah polls, along with elections at Ramallah’s Birzeit University, are considered the bellwether of West Bank politics. The results of these elections are read as a reflection of wider Palestinian society, its position on the PA, and voters’ orientations in any broader elections that may be held in the future.
“The exclusionary approach [of the PA] in the West Bank and the repression [of opponents] led people to hold onto their principle more firmly,” said Sayel Amara, a lecturer at An-Najah.
“The PA must rethink its political project, because it doesn’t have the support of the majority [in Palestine],” he told Middle East Eye.
The election results come a year after undercover security officers attacked Hamas-affiliated students at An-Najah, who were later expelled by the university, leading to more protests and anger directed towards the PA.
It also follows last year’s election victory for the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafa bloc at Birzeit University, another leading independent institution in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the popularity of armed resistance against the Israeli occupation – a strategy often associated with Hamas – has soared in Nablus in the last year, especially with the rise of new groups such as The Lions’ Den.
PA crackdown on Hamas students
An-Najah’s student council has been dominated by the Shabiba bloc since 2007, the year in which a violent political dispute between Hamas and Fatah erupted. It remains unresolved.
Hamas affiliates have been the target of repeated crackdowns by pro-PA forces since the 2007 infighting.
Islamic bloc member Muhammad Raddad, 20, was killed on campus in 2007 when PA security officers and university guards fired live ammunition at students, following a heated student meeting.
The Islamic Wafa was also banned from participating in student elections between 2006-2013.
The university had failed to hold elections since 2017, postponing the annual vote each time, citing different reasons.
A Hamas member and former head of the An-Najah student council told MEE that student and union elections in Palestine suffer inconsistency, “firstly because of the occupation and secondly because of the Palestinian political system”.
First-time voter and media student Maria Sallam said she was happy to participate in the vote for the first time.
“I hope this democratic scene is repeated every year,” Sallam told MEE.
“Many students graduated from the university without exercising their right to choose who should represent them.”
The Shabiba bloc won the last elections in 2017 with 41 seats, while the Islamic bloc held 34 seats.
Ola Marshoud is a Palestinian journalist and content creator based in Jenin