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Bir Zeit University celebrates graduates and remembers those it has lost

Over the two weeks, more than 550 Palestinians have been arrested according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Society amidst the heaviest Israeli military operation in the West Bank since the end of the Second Intifada. Military raids have hit every West Bank city along with many refugee camps and villages since three Israeli settlers were reported to have been kidnapped. Within this operation, West Bank universities have also been targeted including Hebron Polytechnic, Al Quds University in Abu Dis, the Arab American University in Jenin and Ramallah's Bir Zeit University.

The raid on Bir Zeit on June 19th was the first night-time invasion of the university since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. Two students, who had been participating in a sit-in in protest against PA political detentions in the West Bank, were arrested by the IOF during the raid. Many other Bir Zeit students are already languishing in Israeli prisons.

In March 2014, Saji Darwish who was studying media at Bir Zeit, became the most recent student from the university to be killed by the Occupation when shot in the head in his home village of Beitin.

Such attacks on Palestinian students and their institutes, bring in to context the claims made against the BDS campaign – that BDS, and specifically the academic boycott, is an attack on Israeli academic freedom.

Yet despite all this, education is still held up as a beacon of Palestinian life. Working towards a just future in Palestine requires many things, not least an educated new generation who can use their skills to build society and play their roles in a rights-based struggle, even whilst under the oppressive restrictions of occupation.

The Palestinian belief in education, and the inspiring 'sumoud' ('steadfastness) which resonates through Palestinians even, or possibly 'even more', when under severe military attack, shone on Thursday June 26th when more than 8,000 people crammed in to Bir Zeit University to celebrate the annual graduation ceremony. The 2013-14 academic year graduation is being held over two days for both BA and MA students at Bir Zeit.

Before graduation certificates were officially handed out, various speakers remembered Saji Darwish and other martyrs from the university, and paid tribute to the struggle of Palestinian political prisoners. Amidst such difficult times in Palestine, 'celebrations' cannot take place out of context, but neither will Palestinians allow every aspect of their lives to be dictated by the Occupation, or their minds controlled.

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