The Haifa District Court on Tuesday rescinded Haifa University’s restraining order against two students from entering the campus due to political activities related to Nakba Day as part of a consented deal between the parties that involved commitments from the students not to repeat their activities.
Judge Sari Jayyoussi ordered the students’ full reinstatement as of Sunday.
Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, is part of the Palestinian narrative regarding the 1948 War, in which Israeli independence and the war were disasters leading to many Palestinians becoming refugees.
Much of the country’s Jewish population either explicitly rejects this narrative or views it as highly controversial, and debates over Israeli- Arabs’ rights to free speech on the issue has been a hot topic.
Tarek Yassin, head of the Hadash student union, and Ahmed Masalha, head of the Abnaa el-Balad movement’s student union, had been suspended from entering the campus, other than for taking exams, on May 15 following on-campus protests related to Nakba Day on May 12.
Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said in its appeal to the court against the restraining order that the dispute started when the university refused to allow the students to organize an official event for Nakba Day on campus.
The university had justified its refusal this year and in two prior years, stating that such an event would lead to public disorder.
In response, the students covered their mouths as a show of their free speech being allegedly violated and staged a sit-in in a public area on campus.
The two sides disputed whether the administration had contacted the students to avoid a protest, whether the two students organized the protest or were just part of a spontaneous one, if they held responsibility for ending the protest and whether the university’s disciplinary hearing of the students had been fair.
The court’s ruling was viewed by Adalah as a lightning- fast victory and endorsement of its position that the university had overstepped in its disciplinary actions.
Adalah viewed the ruling and the court’s push for a compromise that would allow the students to return to campus as a validation of the students’ crusade for free speech on the Nakba Day issue.
In contrast, the university said it was satisfied that the students committed not to renew similar forms of protest, that return to such protests could lead to an immediate re-imposition of the restraining orders, and that the students would still attend a disciplinary hearing on June 5.
It added that the student groups the two led were still suspended from activities on campus for the remainder of the spring semester and that while it was in favor of free speech it also opposed “anarchy.”