Haifa University suspends two Arab students for organizing a commemoration for Nakba Day on campus

Tuesday 20 May: Haifa District Court hearing on Adalah's motion to cancel the suspension of the students and an internal regulation of the University that allows the Dean to expel students

At 11:00 AM on Tuesday 20 May 2014, the Haifa District Court will consider Adalah’s motion to freeze and cancel the decision of the Dean of Students at Haifa University, which would suspend Tareq Yassin, the head of the al-Jabha student front, and Ahmad Masalha, head of the Abnaa el-Balad student club, for organizing a political activity to commemorate the Nakba on campus. Adalah also asked the court to cancel a university regulation, which gives authority to the Dean of Students to expel students.

According to the motion submitted by Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher, "The right of the students to organize a public event on campus is part of their constitutional right to express their opinion and their right to human dignity, and all hindrance imposed by the university on these activities, and the pursuit of students who are organizing it, constitutes a violation of their constitutional rights."

Adalah argued that the Dean of Students' decision is illegal as it is beyond the scope of powers granted to him by the university’s internal regulations. These regulations give him power to remove students from the university only after they are provided by a hearing and the right to appeal a decision. Adalah added that the Dean’s decision to expel the students is sweeping and unfair and is not proportionate with the violations attributed to the two students.

The Haifa University Dean of Students, Professor Hanan Alexander, decided to suspend the students from coming to campus until a decision is made on a complaint filed against them for organizing a Nakba Day event in the university (see the complaint). The Dean also decided at this stage not to punish three other students for the same complaint until a final decision is made. A day before the event was scheduled to take place, the Dean announced a ban on the event as it "poses a threat to public safety". In response, students and lecturers gathered in one of the university's spaces to jointly demonstrate against the decision and to commemorate Nakba Day peacefully. Haifa University has prohibited Nakba Day events for the past three years since the enactment of the “Nakba Law” (see Adalah's Press Release on the SCT's decision concerning the Nakba Law.) In response to this prohibition Palestinian Arab students have protested annually by having a minute of silence on campus. 

This year on 13 May 2014, the al-Jabha, Balad and Abnaa el-Balad student clubs received an oral decision informing them that they have been prohibited from carrying out any activities until the end of the academic year due to the Nakba Day protest activities that they had planned. In addition, the Dean ordered five students to come for an urgent hearing on 14 May 2014, but due to Adalah's intervention, the hearing was postponed. 

Attorney Zaher, representing the students in front of the university's administration, argued that "The Dean's decision is dangerous and unfair, and does not in any way fit the charges attributed to the students. While the Dean has the authority to remove the students from campus if they pose a threat to the students and public safety, this was not the case; he cannot claim that students who participate in, or organize a silent protest pose such threats."

In an urgent letter to the Dean on 15 May 2014 requesting that he refrain from imposing any sanctions on the students, Attorney Zaher argued that the punishment "violates the students’ legal and constitutional rights of freedom of expression." She added that "this is the third consecutive year in which Palestinian students’ political activities have not been approved upon the request of the student clubs to commemorate Nakba Day. This day is among the most important days of the year for Arab students, and a core part of their collective historical narrative that shapes their political awareness. Even if the university administration does not like this reality, that is not a good enough reason to stop the students from organizing such events." (See Adalah and ACRI's joint Press Release from last year concerning Nakba Day protests on Israeli University campuses.

Adalah attorney Nadeem Shehadeh submitted a different letter on 14 May 2014 to the President of the University, Mr. Amos Shapira, asking him to cancel the decision to freeze Arab students’ activities on campus for the remainder of the academic year. In the letter, Attorney Shehadeh argued that, "One of the most distinctive university duties is respecting the student's freedom of expression to his/her opinion in their place of study. The university should not restrict the student's freedom of expression, freedom to organize events, and freedom to protest; these are constitutional rights and in the students’ rights laws."

Case Citation:  Motion 29042-05-14, Masalha et al. vs. Haifa University et al. (Haifa District Court)