Two Palestinian students were detained on Monday by off-duty police on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem for singing nationalist songs. After being questioned on suspicion of conduct that could disturb the peace, were released from detention about six hours later, and suspended from the university for six days.
The two students, residents of East Jerusalem aged 19 and 20, were walking near the law school in the center of the Mount Scopus campus, a source said, when several uniformed policemen, who were studying there as part of a police program, approached them.
The officers asked what the two students were singing, and they responded that it was none of their business. According to the source, the policemen then informed them that they were under arrest, and the two claim that the song they were singing was not nationalist.
The source added that of the policemen then took out his private cell phone and photographed the students. He and his fellow officers led them to the university gate, and two police cars took them to the station in the capital, where they also had their phones confiscated. The university security guards were aware of the situation, but did not intervene.
During their questioning at the police station the students claimed that they were singing “Ala Dalouna,” a folk song about the olive harvest and the spring foods of Palestinian farmers. The source that spoke to the students said that they were asked about their political views, what they think of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and whether they pray and fast during the month of Ramadan.
The police said that the two had not been arrested, but rather detained and questioned before being released under restrictive conditions. According to a statement from the police, the officers who were studying at the university "noticed two students singing a song in Arabic that includes words of support for perpetrating acts of terror.”
“The university should have stood behind its students and not allowed the police to enter the campus, as is customary all over the world,” says Prof. Daphna Golan of the university’s law school. “Moreover, it should make it clear to policemen who study at the university that they can’t use their position in order to arrest students. Couldn't they call security? Why was it necessary to arrest them on campus? We have to stop assuming that because we don’t understand the words, it’s a song of incitement.”
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The university’s student union said that it is the role of campus security to handle such matters, and that "The students in the university demand a university-controlled space where we can’t be arrested at any given moment for things we say, and a safe space in general." The institution, it said, "must back the students, enable freedom of expression and our personal security, and not agree to arbitrary arrests, even in challenging times like these.”
In recent years the number of Palestinians studying at the Hebrew University has increased by hundreds of percentage points, one reason being the special study program developed for them. At the same time, the number of students attending the university in uniform has increased, including soldiers from the Military Intelligence Directorate doing compulsory service, and police officers, are studying at the university. Both groups of students have a significant presence on campus.
Attorney Hiba Qaddumi, who is representing one of the students who was detained, said that the arrest, “for fear that the conduct could disturb the peace and incite because they ‘were singing in Arabic,’ is racist and bullying and constitutes a misuse of authority.”
The Hebrew University said in response that “The enforcement activity on campus is carried out by the university’s Security Department. The policemen who exercised their authority today did not do so with the knowledge of the university. In the wake of the incident, the regulations will be clarified.”