Haifa University Students Appeal Conviction by Disciplinary Committee


On Thursday, 15 November 2001, five Haifa University students were convicted by the University’s Disciplinary Committee on charges stemming from their involvement in a demonstration held at the University on 24 October 2001. The demonstration was staged to protest against the housing shortage faced by Arab students, due to University policies that discriminate against Arabs in the assignment of rooms in the university dormitory, and the unwillingness of local landlords to rent apartments to Arabs.


Today, Adalah staff attorney Orna Kohn, representing the students, submitted an appeal to the Haifa University Appeals Committee. The five students are Ahmad Abed el-Khalek, Chair of the Arab Students Committee; Shadi Khalilia, member of the Haifa University Students Union; Raja Zaatra, past head of the National Union of Arab Students; Fadi Abu Yunis, member of the Haifa University Students Union; and Hani Wattad, member of the National Arab Students Union.


In their appeal, the students argue that the three members of the Disciplinary Committee, Professor Hayim Kutiel, Dr. Ori Ben Eliezer, and Ms. Maya Zaidman, erred in ordering their conviction. The Disciplinary Committee based its decision solely on the confessions of the students to participating in the demonstrations. The students maintain that this did not amount to a confession to the charges against them.


The students also argue that there were severe procedural defects in the disciplinary process. The decision to convict them was made without evidence being presented to support the charges against them; further, they were not given the opportunity to present any evidence or witnesses. The proceedings violated the Disciplinary Code of Haifa University as well as the students’ right to a fair hearing, and were contrary to the principles of natural justice.


Moreover, the students contend that Professor Kutiel should have recused himself from the Disciplinary Committee, due to his demonstrated bias against them. Professor Kutiel had already established his position regarding the students’ guilt, both in the preliminary hearing and in an affidavit submitted to the Haifa District Court.


The students’ first hearing before the Disciplinary Committee took place on 8 November 2001. At this hearing, Ms. Kohn presented the students’ primary arguments, including requests to open the hearing to the public, to join the cases of all the students, and to remove Professor Kutiel from the Committee by virtue of his established bias. Ms. Kohn also addressed the students’ right to review previous decisions of the Disciplinary Committee, and their right to choose between submitting to the disciplinary procedure or to mediation. All of the primary arguments were accepted, except for the request for the removal of Professor Kutiel. In the course of the hearing, the students admitted to having participated in the demonstration, but denied the charges against them, including the allegation that the demonstration was illegal.


At the second hearing, on 15 November 2001, the prosecution dropped five of the charges at the urging of the Disciplinary Committee. The students were subsequently convicted on the sixth charge, of violating Article 5.10 of the Disciplinary Code, which pertains to disobeying the orders of university authorities. Professor Kutiel based his decision on the students’ admission to having participated in the demonstration, which he considered equivalent to a confession of guilt on the remaining charge.


Ms. Kohn argued that the students’ admission to having participated in the demonstration did not amount to a confession of having violated Article 5.10 of the Disciplinary Code, nor was it a confession to any of the other charges. According to the Disciplinary Code and the principles of natural justice, she argued, the students can not be convicted until the prosecution successfully proves their guilt. They must also have the opportunity to answer the prosecution’s evidence, after such evidence has been presented, and to bring forward their own witnesses, evidence and arguments. The Disciplinary Committee rejected Ms. Kohn’s arguments, and the conviction was upheld without further discussion.


Ahmad Abed el-Khalek and Raja Zaatra received a sentence of severe censure, while the other students received regular censures. All of the students were also sentenced to suspension. The suspensions were suspended, with the condition that the students not commit an offense under Article 5.10 within the next year.