Student’s killing sparks protests against PA in Jenin

Mahran Khaliliyeh, 21, a resident of the village of Jaba’ in the Jenin area, was fatally stabbed during a brawl at the entrance to the AAU campus on Saturday.

Palestinians take part in a rally to mark the founding of Fatah in 1965, at the Arab American University in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 6, 2008. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinians take part in a rally to mark the founding of Fatah in 1965, at the Arab American University in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 6, 2008.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

Palestinian Authority security forces used force on Sunday to disperse demonstrators protesting the killing of Mahran Khaliliyeh, a 21-year-old nursing student at Arab American University (AAU) near Jenin.

Khaliliyeh, a resident of the village of Jaba in the Jenin area, was fatally stabbed during a brawl at the entrance to the AAU campus on Saturday.

Following the incident, AAU was closed until further notice.

Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah, was also closed after a violent confrontation between students on Friday.

Last month, two other Palestinian academic institutions, Al-Quds University in Abu Dis and Hebron University, were also forced to close down because of violent clashes between students.

Palestinian university students take part in a chess competition at the Arab American University in the West Bank city of Jenin, December 13, 2010. (credit: REUTERS/ABED OMAR QUSINI)Palestinian university students take part in a chess competition at the Arab American University in the West Bank city of Jenin, December 13, 2010. (credit: REUTERS/ABED OMAR QUSINI)

Saturday’s incident at AAU triggered a wave of protests and condemnations by many Palestinians, who accused the PA of failing to enforce law and order in areas under its control in the West Bank.

Khaliliyeh was affiliated with the ruling Fatah faction in Jaba. His attackers belong to the same faction, but in the town of Kabatiya, also in the Jenin area.

It remains unclear what triggered the clash between the two Fatah-affiliated sides.

Palestinian sources said that Khaliliyeh was stabbed to death by one of the heads of the Fatah-affiliated student bloc at AAU.

The suspect later handed himself over to the PA security forces. A spokesperson for the PA police said that altogether, 10 suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing of Khaliliyeh.

Hours after the death of Khaliliyeh, dozens of Jaba residents took to the streets to protest the killing. The demonstrators burned tires and blocked the main entrances to the village.

The protests continued on Sunday, with residents hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at PA security officers and burning tires.

Residents of Jaba claimed that the suspects who were arrested in connection with the killing of Khaliliyeh are linked to the PA security forces.

The residents expressed fear that the suspects would escape punishment because of their affiliation with Fatah and close ties to the PA security establishment.

“The clashes between the Palestinians and the Palestinian security forces are very serious,” said Ayman Abu al-Rub, a political activist from Jenin. “People here are very unhappy with the Palestinian Authority and the way it is dealing with anarchy and lawlessness. The people are saying that Fatah and the Palestinian security agencies are responsible for the security chaos and the killings.”

During Saturday’s protests, residents of Jaba called for the resignation of Jenin Governor Akram Rajoub, whom they hold responsible for the growing scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in the area.

“Before he came here, Rajoub was the governor of Nablus, where there was also anarchy and many shootings,” said Hussam Abu Ziad, a resident of Kabatiya. “The governor must be replaced immediately. He failed in Nablus, and now he has failed in Jenin. He is part of the problem, not any solution.”

Last month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas replaced the commanders of most of the Palestinian security forces in Jenin. The move came in response to complaints about increasing anarchy and lack of law enforcement in the area. It also came after scores of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) gunmen participated in the funeral of Wasfi Kabaha, a senior Hamas official who died of corona.

The large turnout at the funeral and the appearance in public of Hamas and PIJ gunmen are said to have seriously embarrassed the PA leadership, prompting Abbas to dismiss the security commanders in Jenin.

“What happened at Arab American University on Saturday did not surprise many Palestinians,” said Palestinian journalist Maher Abu Hussein. “This is the fourth university to witness violence incidents in the past few weeks. When four universities are forced to close down, this shows that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to protect students and faculty members.”

Abu Hussein and other Palestinians pointed out that Fatah-affiliated students were responsible for most of the violent incidents that took place at the four universities.

“If you are a member of Fatah or if your father holds a senior position in the Palestinian Authority, then you have immunity,” said another Palestinian journalist, who asked not to be identified. “Bir Zeit University was forced to shut the campus after Fatah students attacked members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas.”

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said necessary measures would be taken to prevent violence on Palestinian university campuses. 

“What happened on some campuses is sad,” Shtayyeh said. “It is very painful for us. We reject what happened, and we will take measures to prevent the recurrence of incidents such as the one at Arab American University.”