Kifah Quzmar: Student imprisoned without trial

On 7th March, 28 year-old Kifah Quzmar joined the 60 or so other students at Birzeit University currently residing in Israeli jails. He had been returning from a family trip to Jordan during the Spring break when he was arrested by Israeli forces at the Allenby Bridge crossing.

His brother, Ismat Quzmar, who works at Birzeit University and a former prisoner himself, describes a 'fearless, stubborn and attractive' fourth year student majoring in Business and a 'hardcore Arsenal fan (who wants Arsen to stay)'. Off campus, Kifah devoted much of his free time to his passion for football, teaching the sport to under-nines in the Ramallah district.

Kifah's ordeal began on the Allenby crossing but over the following 24 days he was subject to interrogation at five different detention centers across the country and denied access to a lawyer. As with many Palestinian prisoners in the military court system which operates in the West Bank, no charges were brought against nor was Kifah taken to trial and yet he was ordered to serve six months imprisonment under administrative detention. The procedure was inherited from British Mandate emergency laws and allows for Israeli military authorities to imprison Palestinians for six-month renewable periods without charge or trial.

As with many administrative detainees, Kifah's detention was based on 'secret information' intended to demonstrate his status as a threat to 'public security'. In protest, Kifah launched a hunger strike but 'they refused to put forward any charges, and instead of releasing him, ordered his administrative detention. Just as simple as that. Just because they can. Just because all what they need to do to send someone to administrative detention is to type his name on a paper, and type” security threat” next to it'.

The conditions Ismat describes his brother faces in Israeli jails are the same as the 6,200 other Palestinian prisoners. 'The interrogation stage is very tough, basically solitary confinement, bad nutrition, worse light and air, complete isolation from the world, very long and intensive interrogation sessions, sometimes involving several interrogators. Interrogations sessions all night long, deprivation of sleep - sometimes they keep you tied to a chair from hands and legs for 3 days. Your very basic needs like using the WC can and will be used against you.' To keep his spirits up, Kifah calls his family as often as he can and reads.

The imprisonment of students has been reported by universities to have a major impact their educational progress. As Ismat emphasises, the effect is multi-dimenstional, 'the best years of a student's life are stolen from them, their life plans are crushed, and their mental health is severely affected, thus their academic records are affected too. At any point there are almost 100 student under arrest and in recent years the numbers are increasing significantly.'