As tensions rise all over Israel regarding the recent Nakba day protests and the death of Al- Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, Ben Gurion University is not immune to this turmoil. Students at Ben Gurion University were divided, on one side a sea of blue and white, and on the other, black, green, red, and white.
On May 12th, Ben Gurion University students demonstrated against the “killing” of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, claiming her death was a result of the occupation. This was accompanied by the waving of Palestinian flags and calling for the end of the occupation. During this protest, Ben Gurion Pharmacy student Maryam Abu Qwaider was taken into custody over incitement charges.
Shin Bet and the Police allege that Abu Qwaider published 10 social media posts expressing incitement or sympathy with a terrorist organization. According to Judge Daniel Ben Tolila, who is presiding over the case, two of the posts included a speech by Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar calling for Palestinians to attack Jews with a “cleaver, ax or knife.” and a reaction to a May terror attack in Elad that left three Israelis dead with the off-color caption “It seems the holiday of Eid al Fitr came early this year” followed by a laughing emoji.
Abu Qwaider’s case is still underway; she has been confined until the 26th of June after Judge Raphel Yamini decided to extend her house arrest once again, deeming her a threat to public security.
Although her apprehension was not related to her participation in the protest, the lack of formal denunciation of Abu Qwaider’s support of terror by Hadash, the organizers of the protest, speaks volumes.
In addition, groups like Standing Together even called for their members to support Abu Qwaider’s release and to join protests outside the courthouse to demand she be discharged. But, of all the responses, or lack thereof, the silence of the university after yet another judge extends Abu Qwaider’s house arrest is eye-opening. Students need to know that this type of incitement has no place on campus if security is ever going to be restored.
Abu Qwaider’s remarks come amidst an alarming period of terror attacks in which Jewish, Arab Israeli, and Druzi citizens were killed by horrific terror attacks. Staying silent in the face of incitement is not neutrality, it is allowing fear-mongering and terrorism to run free. In this period of heightened tension due to the copious terror attacks, it’s abundantly clear to students where the loyalties of their university lie. The university clearly sides with a student, who benefits from a public university in Israel, a state she wishes did not exist.
These demonstrations were confronted with backlash from a wide group of students who wished to organize an impromptu counter-protest. Their initial attempts were complicated when the university would not allow students to enter the campus holding Israeli flags. The university has since said this was merely a miscommunication.
Tensions peaked, on May 23rd, during the Nakba Day protest organized by the student group Hadash. This protest marks the first time that Ben Gurion students have asked to hold a Nakba protest on campus.
Although Shin Bet officers did not come to this rally, that does not mean there was a lack of incitement. Ben Gurion student Wattan Madi chanted in the megaphone before the crowd commemorating the Nakba, “we will not forget the martyrs that fulfilled the unity of the land, the people, and history,” honoring the attempted invasion and elimination of the State of Israel by five armies from neighboring Arab countries in 1948.
Although the songs or chants might have changed from protest to protest or from campus to campus, one thing stays the same: the presence of the Palestinian flag.
While this flag may represent the national movement of the Palestinian people to some, it is important to understand its checkered past. The Palestinian flag has been identified with the Palestinian Liberation Organization since 1964, a designated terrorist organization responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians.
Fatah, the largest faction in the PLO, recently praised one of its members for committing the horrific Tel Aviv terror attack on April 7th, which targeted young civilians enjoying Tel Aviv nightlife. This attack claimed the lives of two Tel Aviv University students and a father of three young children. Only two weeks later the flag of those who claimed responsibility for their death was flaunted on the Tel Aviv University campus and campuses all over Israel. This has raised questions about whether students protesting on government-funded university campuses should be allowed to raise it during protests.
No one should impede a person’s right to protest or their right to free speech, but as in most democracies, the right to free speech is not absolute. Concerns over national security must be taken into consideration. Therefore the incitement of violence and bigotry, as is the case with Abu Qwaider’s remarks, or calls for Israel’s elimination at the Nakba protest are not likely to fall into the category of protected speech. Supporters of the Nakba protest claim that to be able to live together in peace, we must learn to recognize the pain of one another; if only they practiced what they preach, we would be closer to peace.
A slightly different version of this article was published in The Algemeiner.