Bedouin students wave Palestinian flags in Ben-Gurion University protest

The Bedouin students' protest, which was defended by the university, was heavily criticized by the mayor of Beersheba and Education Minister Yifat Sasha-Biton.

Arab Israelis and Israeli left wing activist students, attend a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University on May 15, 2022 (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Arab Israelis and Israeli left wing activist students, attend a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University on May 15, 2022
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Hundreds of Bedouin students at Beersheba's Ben-Gurion University in the Negev commemorated Nakba Day by flying Palestinian flags on the university's campus on Monday.

The protest, which was publicly criticized by politicians and Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, was countered by Jewish students who held a rally with Israeli flags nearby.

In a letter sent to university president Daniel Chamovitz, the mayor strongly condemned the decision to allow the Palestinian demonstrations to take place at the university,  that it shows the university's "fragility," Danilovich said.

"Ben-Gurion University is located in Beersheba, a city within the State of Israel. We have one flag and one flag only."

Beersheba mayor Rubik Danilovich

Danilovich continued his scathing attack on the Bedouin protesters and called for a ban on any political activity on campus, especially "a demonstration which blatantly defies Israel's sovereignty."

"A redline was crossed today," the mayor said. "Our leadership must be felt... I am ashamed."

 Bedouin students at Ben Gurion University in Beersheeba (credit: KITRA CAHANA/FLASH90) Bedouin students at Ben Gurion University in Beersheeba (credit: KITRA CAHANA/FLASH90)

Palestinian free speech

The protesters, on the other hand, argued they are simply exercising their right to free speech.

"The radical reality we live in has created Palestinian nationalism," some protesters said at the scene. "Today, the Arab-Israeli youth feels its identity is Palestinian."

Political discussion can and should be held inside universities in Israel, according to Guiwara Bader, head of the Hadash student cell in BGU.Hadash is the far-left, communist component of the Joint List. "Waving Palestinian flags is a legal act and through those acts, change and peace may come."

Bader further defended the University protests, stating that flying the flag should not be construed as a threat to any Israeli Jew. "We are for coexistence and partnership," the student said. 

The university responded to criticism over allowing the demonstration to be held, saying the request to hold the rally was approved after "thorough legal consultations."

BGU said that it is "proud of its students from all walks of life" for exercising their ability to democratically express their views and values. It also added that it is a testament to the university's "strength" that the protests did not devolve into violent clashes.

Education Minister Yifat Sasha-Biton condemned the scenes from the demonstration, saying that and stated her ministry will "investigate incidents of incitement against state symbols."

BGU is known for its large share of Bedouin students, primarily due to the proximity of the university to the Bedouin villages of the Negev.

In March, it was revealed that three students acting as a mishmeret tzniut (modesty patrol) harassed female Bedouin students at the university for their "lack of modesty." The students, who Chamovitz likened to an Islamic cell, were "dealt with" following complaints filed by the students harassed by them, he stated.

Nakba Day demonstrations across Israel

Nakba Day, which was observed by Palestinians and some Arab-Israelis last week, also saw clashes breaking out in Tel Aviv University after a similar protest was organized by Arab students. 

Demonstrators at the university waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans, and a portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, killed during clashes in Jenin, was set up at the site as well. Three people were arrested at the rally after they attacked protesters and police officers and rioted at the site, Israel Police said.