Jailed by Israel, students pay heavy price in Palestine

Middle East Monitor  /  April 16, 2021

One cold night in December 2019, Shatha Hassan, 23, was woken by her brother Mohamed to tell her that the Israeli army had slapped a siege on their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Israeli forces broke into the house and arrested Shatha, a student activist at Birzeit University near Ramallah.

One month later, Shatha’s brother, Abd al-Majeed, 20, was arrested in another raid of their home and held for a month at Al-Maskobiya interrogation centre in Jerusalem.

After being cross-examined by Israeli interrogators, Abd al-Majeed was ordered released by the Ofer military court. The same court, however, issued an administrative detention order against Shatha.

Administrative detention allows Israeli authorities to extend the detention of a prisoner without charge after the expiration of the sentence that ranges between two to six months.

As Shatha was held in Damon prison near Haifa, Israeli forces raided her house again and arrested her brother Mohamed, who is also a student activist at Birzeit University.

“I received the news of Israel arresting my brothers when I was in jail,” Shatha told Anadolu Agency. “This action is very hard and painful. It is harsh even if I was outside prison.”

The Birzeit University has long been a centre for student activism in the Palestinian territories.

According to university figures, more than 414 students were arrested by Israel in the last ten years and were exposed to interrogation, trials and administrative detention.

Most of the students were accused of participation in student activities of the Islamic bloc, the student arm of Palestinian resistance group Hamas, and the Democratic Progressive Student Pole, the leftist bloc at Birzeit University. Israel officially declared the two blocs as “unlawful associations”.

Human activities

On campus, Shatha and her two brothers engaged in student activities, along with their fellows. Now, they meet in prison.

“We shared our childhood, the university yards, our student activities and then the jail walls,” said Shatha, recalling her memories with her brothers.

On 21 February, the Ofer military court slapped Mohammad with a 14-month jail term and a fine of $1800 for his student activity on campus.

“My parents were activists when they were students at Birzeit University and they were arrested because of this,” Shatha said. “Today, we are exposed to the same experience after more than 30 years.”

The female student was responsible for social activities such as organizing events with hospitals, orphanages and homes for the elderly.

“I didn’t believe that one day we will be detained for months because of our student activities,” Shatha said. “I didn’t believe that I will be in detention because of these human activities.”

Student activism

In prison, Shatha met with her fellow students Mays Abu Gosh and Samah Jaradat, who were arrested in the summer of 2019.

Today, the four female students and tens of males are held by Israeli forces due to their on-campus activism at Birzeit University.

“Once I stepped into the prison, Mays and Samah came to my cell to ask about the latest news of the university,” Shatha said. “Their eyes were shining, they were asking about everything about the university.”

“When Israeli authorities moved me to another cell, we were meeting on the prison yard. The other inmates were calling us the ‘Birzeit family’,” she added.

Shatha continued, “We were walking on the yard with Khaleda Jarar, who is a senior academic at Birzeit University. We felt like students talking to their teacher.”

The three girls were later released, but they left behind four other female students held by Israel in Damon prison.

According to the official numbers, Israel is holding 35 Palestinian women in Damon prison, four of them are students.