West Bank: Palestinian forces assault students protesting controversial university dismissals

Security forces violently disperse a student rally at Al-Najah University, on 14 June 2022 (Screengrab)

Shatha Hammad

Middle East Eye  /   June 14, 2022

Security forces at Al-Najah National University in Nablus could be seen beating students and spraying them with pepper gas, footage shared on social media showed.

Dozens of security guards violently dispersed a student rally at a West Bank university on Tuesday, leaving protesters and staff wounded, footage shared on social media purported to show.

Security forces at Al-Najah National University in Nablus could be seen beating students, spraying them with pepper spray and forcing them out of the campus during the protest which was in response to the university’s decision to expel a group of students last week.

Plain-clothed security officers could be seen chasing students in the vicinity of the university and gunshots could be heard in the background. No gunshot wounds were reported late on Tuesday.

A source told Middle East Eye that the crackdown on the protest was supported by the Palestinian Authority Security Services (PSS).

Last Wednesday, undercover Palestinian Authority (PA) security officers and members of the student arm of the ruling party Fatah, known as the “Shabiba”, reportedly assaulted students and journalists at a protest organized by the Islamic bloc, another student group affiliated with the Hamas movement.

The university dismissed 10 students in connection to the brawls that followed. Five of those dismissed were members of the Islamic bloc and five from its rival the Shabiba. The decision was denounced by both rival student bodies.

A student member of the Independent Movement – a student group that organized the protest – told MEE that the decision to hold the demonstration came after a meeting with the university’s administration ended at an impasse.

The student said the crackdown began early on Tuesday when security guards prevented students from reaching a meeting point inside the university, leaving some trapped inside and a large number outside the university’s main gate.

When the students who were inside decided to go to the main gate and demand entry for the other students, security forces began beating the protesters and forced many outside.

One student member from the Independent Movement said around 40 female students gathered inside the university yard and refused to leave until a professor intervened and granted them safe passage.

However, eyewitnesses told MEE that security guards and members of the Shabiba pursued some of the female students with weapons and threatened to hurt them.

Professors Nasser al-Din al-Shaer and Amer Joud Allah were reportedly attacked while trying to stop the attack and were taken to hospital.

The Al-Najah University said in a statement that violence started after “external groups and some of the expelled students tried to storm the gates of the university”. It added that a number of students and security guards were injured.

The university also announced the transition to remote learning in the next two days.

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights said it held the university administration “fully responsible” for the behaviour of the security guards.

Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning legislative elections one year earlier, called the “suppression” of peaceful protests a “barbaric and criminal attack by the security thuggery for which the university administration bears responsibility”.

Hamas and Fatah split violently in 2007, leaving the Islamist movement in control of Gaza and effectively splitting the Palestinian territory in two. 

Al-Najah University has witnessed an escalation of the crackdown on Hamas affiliates by pro-PA forces since the 2007 infighting.

In the same year, Islamic bloc member Muhammad Raddad, 20, was killed on campus when PA security officers and university guards fired live ammunition at students following a heated student meeting.

Shatha Hammad is a Palestinian freelance journalist