Hebrew University protests - “But the main story that was told was of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs – standing together, protesting together”

Amal & Eran

Amal

On Tuesday, there was a demonstration by Palestinian and Jewish students against militarisation of the Mount Scopus Hebrew University campus, as a reaction to an incident that took place a day before. Police officers, who are students at the Hebrew university, arrested two Palestinian students from East Jerusalem, on campus, because they were listening to songs in Arabic. The students maintain they were listening to a folk song, while the police officers claim the students were listening to a song that incites hatred and encourages acts of violence. The students were dragged outside the campus and taken to a police station in East Jerusalem, and they were ordered not to enter the university for 6 days after being interrogated for a few hours.

The demonstration that took place on Tuesday was approved by the university, but going there brought a surreal feeling; demonstrations in East Jerusalem very rarely get approved, but the university is a special case. For the first time in a very long time, I thought that time has come for our voices to be heard and for our pain to be seen. Alas, I was mistaken. An antagonizing demonstration took place at the same place at the same time by a student movement called "Im Tirtzu". While Palestinian students were shouting "freedom"; the other students shouted "terrorists". My heart sank to my knees. I was filled with disbelief, anger and frustration as I heard them yell "death to Arabs". The university allowed this to happen, and therefore, it's the one to blame. Police officers stood with the students who were yelling using racist and inciting language.

Nationalist Jewish Israeli protestors at the Hebrew University protests

As a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I always felt that the university was a safe space for me, that it was a place were I belonged, but I was hit with a cruel and cold reality when I realized that using this sort of language against Palestinians and Arabs at large is not punishable, and when my entire existence is threatened.

I'm extremely disappointed by the university's decision to retain racist students, to allow them freedom of hatred under the premise of freedom of speech. For the first time in my student life there, I felt small, insignificant, unwelcome, threatened and out of place. I realized that this is not a place I can call my own, and that my voice doesn't travel far, especially when the response to a call for freedom is being called a terrorist. I can assure you that the same length of this so-called freedom of speech is not extended to others. Antisemitism is bad in all of its forms, but racism towards Palestinians shouldn't be allowed or tolerated, both hatreds should be held with the same regard, simply because we're not less human. Double standards are one of the oldest but most tolerated forms of racism, and it's about time this stops.

We're two people who are suffering on this land, and who have both the fortune and misfortune of calling it our home, and we're all here to stay. We should stand up to hate everywhere, and call for accountability. I hold my head up high and say that I am a Palestinian, and I am a student of the Hebrew university of Jerusalem, and today, more than ever, I choose love over hate, and bridges over walls. If what happened doesn't rub you the wrong way, then it's about time we have a conversation.

Eran

I was sitting in my office, scrolling through Twitter, when I saw a tweet from a friend of mine, an activist and a student from Hebrew U, about an arrest of two Palestinian students on campus by a police officer, who is also a student. This was upsetting and frightening, as at the same time Israel suffered several terror attacks in the past week, raising suspicion and tension between Jews and Palestinians to a level I haven’t seen since the war last year.

A couple of minutes later, I started receiving messages in Whatsapp groups about a solidarity protest, organizing the very next day by progressive and left-wing political clubs on campus. Messages of condemnation against the arrest, and a demand from the university to ensure the safety and legal rights of all students started popping on my social media, and I saw the joint statements of Jewish and Palestinian students – standing together in solidarity.

In recent years, I saw how every time we see violence erupt, or an escalation in the region, the racist, violent and nationalistic narratives become the main and loudest story told. But this time was different. The co-resistance of Israelis and Palestinians passed the crucial threshold and became a movement. It is not only the call to end the occupation, but it is also the generational strive for equality, justice, and opportunity for all. 

The next day there were two demonstrations on campus in Jerusalem – the bigger one made by Jewish and Arab students, and a smaller one filled with right-wing Israelis, calling the Palestinians “Terrorists” and calling to kick out and expel the ‘Arab’ students. But the main story that was told was of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs – standing together, protesting together.

Palestinian students asking for their rights at Hebrew University

This co-resistance is forming on university campuses. Throughout history, it was students who led social reform. Something about the spirit of critical thinking in academia, and the very delicate mixture of anger and hope that sparks political activism in its purest form.