Israeli University Summons Student for 'Supporting Terrorism' Over Mahmoud Darwish Quote

At a Nakba Day memorial event organized by the campus Hadash chapter back in May, Watan Madi concluded her speech with Darwish's words, "We will not forget the martyrs who fulfilled the unity of the country, the people and histor"

Nati Yefet
Nati Yefet
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Ben Gurion University in May. The school's administration has summoned a student over the phrase "martyrs" in a Nakba Day speech
Ben Gurion University in May. The school's administration has summoned a student over the phrase "martyrs" in a Nakba Day speechCredit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Nati Yefet
Nati Yefet

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev summoned Watan Madi, a student and left-wing activist affiliated with the Hadash party's campus chapter, to disciplinary proceedings on Monday over a Mahmoud Darwish quote she read at a Nakba Day rally — the university claims that reading the call by the famed Palestinian poet to "not forget the martyrs" constitutes support for terrorism.

At the Nakba Day memorial event organized by the campus Hadash chapter back in May, Madi concluded her speech with Darwish's words, "We will not forget the martyrs who fulfilled the unity of the country, the people and history."

The summons letter was sent on Wednesday following a complaint filed by the university's chapter of Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Zionist group, according to which the student is "suspected of behavior that involves disobedience, or refusal to obey the instructions of the authorities."

In a Knesset hearing back in May, Madi said that the quote she brought concerns only the "martyrs who fell in 1948 and were expelled from their homes". Darwish's words continue with the need to insist on "the path of freedom and the path of rebellion, until the two eternal twins meet: freedom and peace."

Protesters at Ben Gurion University in May. Right-wing group Im Tirtzu filed the complaint leading to the student's summons over her use of the phrase "martyrs"Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

In response to claims that words of support for terrorism were read and said at the rally, the chairman of the Hadash branch at Ben-Gurion University, Guevara Bader, told "Haaretz" at the time that the event was a memorial rally and not a demonstration, therefore only texts of remembrance and empathy for the victims were read.

Madi's disciplinary hearing led Bader to translate Darwish's full essay, replacing the word "martyr" with the word "fallen": "We will not forget the beginning, nor the keys to our homes, nor the road lamps that were lit with our blood, nor the fallen who fertilized our land, people and history, and not those who were born and lived on the sidelines of the road that will lead us to the spiritual homeland, as long as the spirit of the homeland continues to inspire us."

The university claims that it bases its allegations against Madi on the definitions of the word martyr (shahid) in the Hebrew online dictionaries Milog and Matah. These dictionaries explain the Muslim concept of sacrificing one's life for the sake of religious commandments, and also mention how Palestinians use the term to refer to terrorists.

"Among the citizens of the country and the crowd at the demonstration, the term is commonly used to describe a suicide bomber," the university noted in the summons' appendix. "The words are ones of support and love for those who use violence. Support for terrorism and violence can also be done in the form of a quote."

According to the summons, the university sees the waving of Palestinian flags during the event as a reinforcement to the claim that Madi expressed support for terrorism.

Madi told Haaretz that Im Tirzu "keeps going after leftists on campuses. It's unclear how you turn a passage that closes with a call for freedom and peace and turn it into support for terrorism. It's absurd."

Ben-Gurion University stated that "the committee will decide whether the complaint is justified. The university encourages freedom of expression, but will not tolerate disciplinary violations."

Following the Nakba Day event, where Palestinian flags were waved, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman advocated for a reduction in state funding for Ben-Gurion University. Liberman asked for a review of the university's conduct, with the goal of cutting its budget in mind.

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