Ben-Gurion University: A Campus Divided
As tensions rise all over Israel regarding the recent Nakba Day protests and the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, Ben-Gurion University is not immune to this turmoil.
On May 12, some Ben-Gurion University students demonstrated against the “killing” of the Al Jazeera journalist, claiming her death was a result of the “occupation.” This was accompanied by the waving of Palestinian flags and calling for the end of the occupation. During this protest, Ben-Gurion pharmacy student Maryam Abu Qwaider was taken into custody over incitement charges.
The Shin Bet and the Israeli police allege that Abu Qwaider published 10 social media posts expressing incitement or sympathy with a terrorist organization. According to judge Daniel Ben Tolila, who is presiding over the case, two of the posts included a speech by Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar calling for Palestinians to attack Jews with a “cleaver, ax or knife,” and a reaction to a May terror attack in Elad that left three Israelis dead with the off-color caption, “It seems the holiday of Eid al Fitr came early this year,” followed by a laughing emoji.
Although her apprehension was not related to her participation in the protest, the lack of formal denunciation of Abu Qwaider’s support of terror by Hadash, the organizers of the protest, speaks volumes.
In addition, groups like Standing Together called for their members to support Abu Qwaider’s release, and to join protests outside the courthouse to demand she be discharged. But students need to know that this type of incitement has no place on campus if peace and security is ever going to be restored.
Abu Qwaider’s remarks come amidst an alarming period of terror attacks, in which Jewish, Arab Israeli, and Druze citizens were killed. Staying silent in the face of incitement is not neutrality. The university clearly sides with a student who benefits from a public university in Israel — a state she wishes did not exist.
These demonstrations were met by backlash from a wide group of students who wished to organize an impromptu counter-protest. But their initial attempts were complicated when the university would not allow students to enter the campus holding Israeli flags. The university has since said that this was merely a miscommunication.
Tensions peaked on May 23, during the Nakba Day protest organized by Hadash. This protest marked the first time that Ben-Gurion students have asked to hold a Nakba protest on campus.
One Ben-Gurion student, Wattan Madi, chanted in the megaphone before the crowd commemorating the Nakba, “We will not forget the martyrs that fulfilled the unity of the land, the people, and history,” thus honoring the effort by five armies from neighboring Arab countries and the Palestinian Arabs to destroy Israel in 1948.
Although the songs or chants might change from protest to protest or from campus to campus, there is one thing that stays the same: the presence of the Palestinian flag.
While this flag may represent the national movement of the Palestinian people to some, it is important to understand its checkered past. The Palestinian flag has been identified with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1964, a designated terrorist organization responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians.
Fatah, the largest faction in the PLO, recently praised one of its members for committing the horrific Tel Aviv terror attack on April 7, which targeted young civilians enjoying Tel Aviv nightlife. This attack claimed the lives of two Tel Aviv University students, and a father of three young children. Only two weeks later, the flag of those who claimed responsibility for the attack was flaunted on the Tel Aviv University campus, and campuses all over Israel.
No one should impede a person’s right to protest or their right to free speech, but as in most democracies, the right to free speech is not absolute. Concerns over national security must be taken into consideration. Therefore the incitement of violence and bigotry, as is the case with Kuidar’s remarks, or calls for Israel’s elimination at the Nakba protest, are not likely to fall into the category of protected speech. Supporters of the Nakba protest claim that to be able to live together in peace, we must learn to recognize the pain of one another. If only they practiced what they preach, we would be closer to peace.
Sara Goel is a CAMERA on Campus intern who is currently studying Law at Sapir College. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University.