Campus security guards photograph student protestors
The security guards at Be'er Sheva's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev don't stop at checking people's bags at the campus entrance. They photograph political activists and demonstrations on campus and prevent political activity even outside university grounds. Some 60 faculty members and students recently expressed concern over the university's security department's activities, calling them "improper" and "antidemocratic."
Daud Afan, an undergraduate student majoring in political science and government, was approached by two security guards while sitting with friends in the campus cafeteria during the Israeli military strike on Gaza. "They asked for our student IDs and then one of them photographed me," he says.
Last month Afan organized a lecture for students about the Nakba, the Palestinians' term for what happened to them after 1948. He received permission from the dean of students, Yaakov Afek, and from campus security, but when he came to collect a final permit from security he was told the lecture was canceled because he was 10 minutes late.
After intervention from the dean the lecture was held the following week. After the lecture security guards asked Afan to pay them NIS 118.30, but would not tell him why.
Afek said Afan should not have been charged, and he did not pay the guards. He said he would make sure that incident was not repeated in the future.
Ran Tzoref, an undergraduate who is active in Darom le Shalom ("the south for peace"), says security guards photographed him at least three demonstrations in the past few months.
About a week ago a security guard in plainclothes took pictures of a protest at the university against the Nakba and citizenship bills, from the window of a distant building. Tzoref recognized the guard and photographed him, but when he approached, another man, also not in uniform, threatened to beat him up.
The university spokesman said he was not aware of the incident but said, "Photographs are sometimes taken to preserve public order."
Noah Slor, a graduate student in Middle East studies student, said that about a month ago security guards ordered her to stop distributing flyers against the Nakba bill outside the campus, where representatives of various companies frequently hand out pamphlets undisturbed.
She herself has distributed invitations there in the past, Slor said. She said one guard, Gilad Talhaker, told her, "You're not naive, this isn't your first protest here."
"There's an unpleasant feeling that a sort of KGB is operating on campus, without any regulations, supervision or anyone knowing what they do exactly," says Slor.
The university spokesman said Slor was standing outside the gate but under the roof of a shed belonging to the university, and refused to move and distribute flyers in the sun.
University vice-president and director general David Bareket wrote in a letter that photography is not forbidden by law, according to legal advice given to the university.
The activites of campus security have also angered faculty members. Some 60 lecturers and students signed a letter to the university administration expressing concern over actions amounting to "improper, discriminatory, and antidemocratic behavior that shows a basic misunderstanding of the purpose of a security department in an institution of higher education."