Palestinian Authority security forces have resumed their crackdown on university students suspected of affiliation with Hamas, Palestinians said on Sunday.
The crackdown comes on the eve of the elections for the student council at Bir Zeit University, north of Ramallah, which are scheduled to be held later this week. Hamas scored a landslide victory in the last elections at Bir Zeit University in May 2022.
It also comes days after a Hamas-affiliated list won the student council elections at An-Najah University in Nablus. The victory of the Hamas-affiliated list at the largest Palestinian university in the West Bank is seen by many Palestinians as a blow to the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Ongoing dispute between Fatah and Hamas
The latest clampdown by the PA on university students is seen by Palestinians in the context of the ongoing dispute between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas.
The PA security forces regularly arrest or summon for interrogation many political activists and students suspected of membership in, or affiliation with, Hamas.
A Palestinian human rights advocate said the recent arrest of several students by the Palestinian security forces is an indication that the Ramallah-based PA leadership is worried about Hamas’s rising popularity on university campuses.
“President Abbas and the Fatah leadership are unhappy with the growing activities of their rivals in Hamas on campuses,” the human rights activist told The Jerusalem Post. “For them, the Hamas victory at An-Najah University was a disaster. Now they are trying to prevent other universities and academic institutions from falling into the hands of Hamas.”
In the past three weeks, at least six students from various campuses were arrested by PA security officers: Bara’ Balout and Tareq Amru, and Qusai Amru from Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron, Emad Asafreh from Hebron University, Muhammed Asous from An-Najah University and Omar Mansour from Palestine Technical University in Tulkarm.
The Hamas-affiliated student list at Palestine Polytechnic University, Islamic Bloc, condemned the “politically-motivated arrest” of three of its members and called for their immediate release.
The list said in a statement that the students’ arrest coincided with the beginning of the final examinations, a move that could cost them a whole academic year.
Not the first of its kind in West Bank
The crackdown on university students is not the first of its kind in the West Bank. Last year, PA security forces arrested nine students from Bir Zeit University on suspicion of being affiliated with Hamas and other opposition groups.
According to a Palestinian political activist in Ramallah, the clampdown on Hamas-affiliated students is counterproductive and plays into the hands of the PA’s political foes and critics. “The Palestinian Authority is already facing widespread criticism from many Palestinians because of the security coordination with Israel,” the activist told the Post. “By arresting and torturing Hamas supporters, the Palestinian Authority is confirming the allegations that it acts as a sub-contractor for the Israeli security establishment.”
Last week, officers from the PA’s General Intelligence Service raided the home of student Bara’ah Salaymeh in Hebron, conducted a thorough search and confiscated her mobile phone and computer, a source in the city said, noting that she studies at Palestine Polytechnic University.
In addition to students, the PA security forces have also arrested scores of Hamas-affiliated activists in the West Bank over the past few weeks. Some of them have been transferred to the notorious Jericho Prison, often described by Palestinians as the “Jericho Slaughterhouse.”