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We, Palestinian students studying at Birzeit University in the Israeli occupied West Bank, were barely getting over the assassination and mourning of a fellow Birzeit University student, Saji Darwish 1 - killed by the Israeli occupation army in March 2014 - and preparing for finals, when a reign of nightly Israeli army terror gripped the West Bank. Three young Israeli illegal settlers on Palestinian land disappeared on June 12-13, 2014, with no one claiming responsibility. Yet the Israeli government continues to insist that they have been abducted by Hamas, without any evidence to confirm this claim.
The disappearance has led to indiscriminate nightly raids on West Bank towns and villages, mass arrests, killings, house demolitions, shootings, severe restrictions of movement, and an escalation of violation and collective punishment measures targeting ordinary people and sparing no one, including us university students; and all making it difficult for us to concentrate on studies. But we attempted to focus on studies despite all what is happening around us, as this is how we cope with violation: we insist on studying and on our right to education under Israeli military occupation, and on this hope for our future which is being threatened.
On the night of June 18-19, 2014, when we were studying for comprehensive graduating exams and finals, our University’s campus was also raided. 2 Most of us read the news immediately as it happened, around midnight (and they seem to always come at midnight to instill and intensify fear in our hearts). Others heard the news in the early morning before setting off onto the Israeli army checkpoint dotted roads of the West Bank, hoping, although very uncertain, to get to university, find out what happened, and perhaps sit for exams.
As the events were unfolding, many of us were still up studying but continued to stay up all night, reading and watching the news, and communicating on email and other social media with students and our teachers as well. Some of us first thought that what is posted on facebook about the campus raid was a joke, in disbelief, which quickly turned into reality as we contacted each other. We read about and saw pictures of the Israeli army filling the streets of campus, breaking steel and wooden doors, placing the University unarmed guards all in one room, confiscating their mobile phones, and forcing the night shift head guard to open steel doors with army breaking wooden doors at the faculty of Sciences and the student Union building; and also raising havoc especially in the women’s prayer room, and destroying things allegedly to find some evidence of the disappearance of three Israeli settler youth. But they only found flags, posters, and paraphernalia used in student elections, and confiscated those, and left at around 3.30 am. Our stress levels accelerated, as we saw the pictures filling everyone’s facebook pages.
And we kept asking ourselves: why are they doing this? We have done nothing wrong? Why are they violating our university campus and our lives? Why are they disrupting our learning and our exams? Why are they creating and maintaining fear, and ruling us not only with brute force, but by making our daily life unbearably insecure, by creating terrible uncertainties about the future and even tomorrow, by threatening the destruction of our futures; goodness, by working to deny us the most basic of rights, our right to education?
Are we not human? Do we not have the right to education? To a hopeful future? To a life in freedom with justice and peace? Why does the world never hear us Palestinians?
And as we read and watched our campus being raided, we wondered if exams would be held as planned. We wondered about the roads to the university and their safety, and thought that we better leave home and head towards the university several hours before exam time, just to make sure we arrive on time and not miss exams, given Israeli army checkpoints and obstacles in the face of the crossing. We thought that we just have to make it to University, as simple as that.
As all Palestinians, our capacity to endure and resist severe violation is usually high, but can be compromised in times like this, as there are limits to endurance. But this Palestinian endurance does not take away the fear which lingers deep in our hearts, and the haunting memories of past violation or the experience of what Israeli army incursions can do to people.
And so, some of us simply stayed up all night, and braved the roads very early to be found by faculty and students waiting on the Institute’s stairs for the doors to open at 8 am. We just hugged each other. Others who had to come from the Bethlehem southern region of the West Bank which was especially negatively affected by the onslaught, also did not sleep all night, and braved the road, tired, sleepless, and exhausted, praying that they go through the road and get to the exams having put on a pair of jeans and tennis shoes, and a back pack just in case they faced a checkpoint and must climb a mountainous dirt path if the main road is blocked; and with a rapid heartbeat and zero expectations as they described it, praying for a safe trip and the completion of exams, thinking that this time, no more facebook before exams, it would be best not to know.
Aisha Shalash on behalf of 2nd year graduating Master in Public Health students, Birzeit University, Birzeit, West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory firstname.lastname@example.org
Haneen Dwaib on behalf of 1st year Master in Public Health students, Birzeit University, West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory, email@example.com
1. Deger, Allison. Six Palestinian killed in 24 hours by Israeli forces. Mondoweiss. March 11, 2014. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/03/palestinians-israeli-forces.html ( accessed June 20, 2014).
2. Haaretz. LIVE UPDATES: Israel searches for teens kidnapped in West Bank, day 7. Haaretz 19/06/2014 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.599757 (accessed June 20 ,2014).