Bir Zeit University bans ‘paramilitary’ rally, sparking student protests

The administration announced it has decided to “evacuate all students quickly and until further notice.”

Bir Zeit University near Ramallah (photo credit: FLICKR)
Bir Zeit University near Ramallah
(photo credit: FLICKR)
The administration of the Palestinian Bir Zeit University near Ramallah on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of all its students after some of them went on a rampage on campus and damaged one of the gates.
The administration, which held an emergency meeting in the morning, said in a statement a group of students rioted and damaged the western entrance to the campus.
“The university administration considers these actions a violation of the university laws and regulations,” the statement said. It also warned the violence would negatively impact the safety of the students and university employees.
The administration announced it has decided to “evacuate all students quickly and until further notice.”
The decision was taken after students tried to hold a rally on campus marking the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Earlier, the administration announced that it would ban students from holding any military-style activities on campus. The ban came after the administration became aware that PFLP supporters were planning to hold a paramilitary rally to celebrate the anniversary of their group.
The administration warned in a separate statement on Tuesday it won’t allow any “militarization of student activities” on campus.
“The university’s administration will not hesitate to take what it deems appropriate measures against anyone who violates its laws and regulations,” the statement emphasized. “The administration emphasizes the university’s role in promoting the values and actions it espouses, including freedom of expression, and stresses that manifestations that are not related to the university’s message contradict its laws and regulations.”
Bir Zeit University has long been considered a hotbed of political activity and Palestinian nationalism. The Hamas-affiliated Islamic Bloc has won the majority of seats in student council elections over the past four years. In the last election, in April, the Islamic Bloc and the Fatah-affiliated Bloc of Martyr Yasser Arafat each won 23 out of 51 seats.
A university official told The Jerusalem Post some students tried to bring military uniforms that were supposed to be used during the PFLP rally. “When the security guards prevented them from bringing the uniforms, an altercation erupted between them and the students,” the official said. “The administration is determined to prevent such activities on campus.”
Another official said the students tried to bring cardboard rockets into the university premises to show their support for the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip toward Israel.
Several students expressed outrage over the administration’s measures and accused it of “serving the Israeli occupation.” The students pointed out paramilitary rallies involving masked men dressed in military outfits were not unusual on campus.
“Military manifestations symbolizing the resistance are different than those symbolizing terrorism,” complained a PFLP-affiliated student. “The administration should have banned scenes of anarchy and violence instead of banning national and honorable events.”