Across from the Al-‘Arrub Refugee Camp, some ten kilometers north of the city of Hebron, is a campus of the Palestine Technical University (PTU). Some 570 students are enrolled at the campus. About half of them are studying for a bachelor’s degree; the rest are in certificate programs.
On December 7, 2017, a day after President Trump announced that the US embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem, PTU students held a protest march on campus. When they reached the main entrance, which leads to Route 60, clashes ensued between them and Israeli soldiers who were blocking the gate. Later, the soldiers entered the campus itself and dispersed the protesters with stun grenades, teargas and rubber-coated metal bullets.
Since then, the military has patrolled daily by the main entrance, from early morning until classes are over. In addition, soldiers stationed at the entrance randomly inspect students’ identity cards, take photographs of them and search their bags, sometimes even confiscating their IDs or demanding that the students identify fellow students in photographs. Students report delays of up to an hour to enter the campus. Due to the military presence there, some students – including residents of the refugee camp – prefer to take longer, roundabout routes to campus to avoid encounters with the soldiers.
Apart from the confrontation the day after President Trump’s announcement, there were two other significant clashes between soldiers and students in recent months, with soldiers entering the campus and firing stun grenades, teargas and rubber-coated metal bullets. The first was on Tuesday, December 12; the second was four months later, on Wednesday, April 25, the day a ceremony was held on campus to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Since December 7, the military has arrested 12 students on campus and in its vicinity.
After what happened on Prisoners’ Day, the military shut down the campus for two days. Since then, students have reported that the harassment and delays have eased somewhat, but have not stopped altogether.
B’Tselem has opined: “The soldiers’ conduct at the entrance to the campus has almost become an expected routine. Yet there is nothing routine about students having to get past soldiers in order to enter an academic campus. Delaying the students and harassing them on their way to classes infringes upon their fundamental right to move freely, study and lead an ordinary social life. For students in most countries, these rights are a given, a matter of course. Yet for the hundreds of students at the Al-‘Arrub campus, even the most basic of rights are subject to the whims of the military. It views these rights as privileges that the soldiers may deny at any time, with no justification and certainly no accountability. This is yet another example of the daily, arbitrary abuse of Palestinians in the West Bank, and the military’s cynical use of its power.”