In Disregard for Unprecedented Deterioration of Economic and Social Conditions in Gaza Strip, Hundreds of Students at al-Azhar University Deprived of Entering Exam Rooms
The human rights situation in the Gaza Strip has seriously aggravated due to the ongoing deterioration of economic and social conditions of the residents who have become incapable of meeting the minimum basic needs for a decent life. In light of high rates of poverty, unemployment and indigence among thousands of families in Gaza, it is concerned that thousands of university students would be deprived of their right to Higher Education as hundreds of students at al-Azhar University have been deprived of taking their semester exams for not being able to pay the university tuitions. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is concerned over the late events occurred in al-Azhar University that led to the intervention of the police service, upon the University Administration’s request, in order to disperse the sit-in organized in the University Campus by the students who are deprived of taking the exams. PCHR urged the Palestinian Government to take all the necessary measures that guarantee the protection of these students’ right to get higher education and in the same time maintain the university’s capability to provide its educational services.
According to information obtained by PCHR, the Administration of al-Azhar University announced on 21 March 2018 its decision to prevent any male or female student from entering the exam rooms before paying their university dues. Meanwhile, hundreds of the university students refused the decision as their families are not capable of paying the tuition fees due to the deteriorating economic and social conditions.
On Saturday morning, 24 March 2018, hundreds of students protested inside the University Campus against the decision, causing altercations with employees in the university and exchange of accusations between the students and employees. As a result, the University Security intervened to disperse the sit-in. Events then developed and the Palestinian police officers intervened after being called by the University Administration. The Palestinian Police Service officers dispersed the sit-in, and dozens of students sustained wounds after being hit with batons. Moreover, the police arrested a number of students and photojournalist Mahmoud Zo’abor, who works in al-Hadaf News, after a man, who introduced himself from the Interior Security, confiscated the journalist’s camera and cellphone. Those students were taken to al-‘Abbas Police Station in Gaza City while the photojournalist was taken to al-Jawazat Police Compound. Later on the same day, the arrested students and photojournalist were all released.
On Sunday, 25 March 2018, hundreds of students returned to protest again inside the University Campus in an attempt to pressurize the University Administration to cancel its decision. As a result, semifinal exams in the exam rooms were disrupted. It should be noted that on 24 March 2018, the University Administration published on its website that due to the difficult economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, the University offered and continue to offer all the facilitations for the students. The Administration added that despite the university’s deep compassion with the students in light of the circumstances and challenges before its responsibilities to maintain the university’s educational process and its stability as a national institution, on 24 March 2018, some students obstructed the exams held in some faculties and deliberately caused noise and disturbance. The University Administration emphasized that students are allowed to take exams if they pay the minimum fees (50% of the total tuition fees). The Administration also stressed that the exams will continue to be held according to the announced schedules without any change while compensatory exams will be held for students who could not enter the exam rooms today due to the disturbance. The University Administration urged all students to be responsible and not being drawn to any action that would obstruct the exams and school year. Exams in al-Azhar University were delayed to a later date due to the latest events.
- Marwan al-Agha, Vice President of al-Azhar University, denied that the university had called for the police intervention on grounds of the incidents that obstructed holding exams. Agha clarified that the police has an office in the university and received backups in light of the protest. However, the police service issued an official statement in which they expressed their rejection to interfere in the university campus. The police also said that the university security guards are responsible for protecting the university security, adding that their intervention came upon a request from the University Administration.
The Gaza Strip population suffers from an accelerating and disastrous deterioration in the economic and social conditions. According to estimations of international organizations, the unemployment rate reached around 47% of the total manpower, representing the highest ratio globally. This percentage has aggravated to reach 60% among young men and around 85% among young women. These hard conditions that lead to a serious deterioration increased poverty and food insecurity among the Gaza Strip population for several reasons: the illegal and inhumane Israeli closure imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than 11years that deprives the Gaza strip population of freedom of movement and imposes strangulating restrictions on the freedom of trade; reducing the international funding and support for the Gaza Strip; consequences of the Palestinian political division; successive decisions of the Palestinian Government that suspended hundreds of its servants, put thousands of servants on early retirement; and impose deductions on thousands of servants amounting to more than 60% of their salaries. All this leads to depriving the Gaza Strip population of their sources of income, affecting the total living conditions in the Gaza Strip, including the inability of thousands of university students to pay the university tuition fees.
PCHR is concerned over the catastrophic deterioration of the humanitarian situation and its impact on the total economic and social rights of the Gaza Strip population. PCHR calls upon the Palestinian Government to exert more efforts, including taking all necessary measures so that the Gaza University Students suffering poverty would enjoy their right to university education, including continuing their university study and taking exams, under the Government’s legal obligations resulting from the accession of Palestine to the International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2014, including Article (13), which guarantees each person’s right to higher education.