Palestinians are in shock after the stabbing death of nursing student Mahran Khalelia, 21, at a prestigious university in the northern West Bank.
Three others were wounded as a result of a mass fight on Saturday between groups of students at the Arab American University in Jenin. The school, the first private Palestinian university, was founded 2000 in a collaboration with California State University, Stanislaus and Utah State University, and has more than 11,000 students.
As a consequence of the bloody brawl, the campus was evacuated and the university’s gates were closed until further notice.
The tensions extended to Birzeit University, near Ramallah, where student groups clashed and Palestinian Authority security forces stormed the campus and student dormitories. That in turn led to confrontations with students, forcing the administration to suspend classes.
Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Birzeit University and its former vice president for development and communication as well as a former PA cabinet minister, said the current tension between student blocs “has to do with issues that are not related to the university, but rather to political, behavioral and external differences.”
Last week, an event at Hebron University sponsored by the Jawwal communication company sparked a great deal of protest on social media, at the university and beyond, against the mixed-gender dance party in the conservative city.
A PA Education Ministry official told local media the event “wasn’t sanctioned” by the ministry.
Last month, Al-Quds University in Abu Dis called off classes for a few days after masked men fired their weapons at the school’s entrances and following several nights of violence that only ended after the PA dispatched police reinforcements and community elders intervened with the university administration.
“The serious deterioration that is taking place in the student movements in our Palestinian universities requires a pause and serious work,” said Mohammad Abdallah, a third-year student at Birzeit University. “Killing has become a normal situation because there is no punishment or deterrent. The government must take steps to stop these crimes.”
The Council of University Presidents held an emergency meeting headed by Mahmoud Abu Mwais, the minister of higher education and scientific research, to discuss the violent incidents at several universities throughout the West Bank.
The Media Line reached out to the Palestinian Education Ministry but received no response by press time.
Eman Disi, a student at Al-Quds University, told The Media Line that going to school has become difficult for her. She was caught in gunfire while on campus last month, forcing her to seek shelter behind a car.
“Universities are a stage for education, not violence,” she said, urging administrators to take a tough stance against anyone who violates university rules.
“They should not hesitate to take strict measures against any form of violence, from paramilitary parades to brawls to verbal violence,” she said.
“Where was security during these fights?” Disi wondered. “The security services have failed in their main job of maintaining security despite the fact that they account for 80% of the PA budget.”
The situation at many of the universities is highly sensitive, with the administrations forbidding staff to speak to the media on these issues.
A professor at the Arab American University who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity said educators must make great efforts to build “a new generation that believes in pluralism, alternation of power, acceptance of difference and tolerance toward the other,” adding, “Universities are a place for education and character building, not a place for muscle building.”
Social worker Suhaib Salman, a graduate of An-Najah National University in Nablus, told The Media Line he condemns the recent spike in violence, saying that these types of incidents didn’t happen during his time in college.
“What happened recently shook our consciences. I fear that universities may be losing their academic value, and rather than focusing our attention toward ending the occupation, students are busy fighting each other,” he said.