Student communities angry over relations with Israel

University student unions from North African countries, including Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Morocco, have joined various protest actions to voice their opposition to the normalisation of international relations with Israel following United States mediation.

In the latest development, on 10 December 2020, Morocco and Israel agreed to diplomatic relations which made Morocco the fourth Arab League country to establish ties with Israel in 2020 after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

But, from 1 January 2021, various Moroccan organisations, including the Moroccan Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, reiterated a wave of earlier criticism against the development in a statement: “We call on citizens and the various Moroccan bodies to resist the normalisation [process] and to support the Palestinian people through continuing protests in all cities in all available formats on the ground and on digital media.”

The decisions by the four Arab countries to establish diplomatic, cultural and commercial relations with Israel in 2020 have been influenced by the promise of either advanced weapons or diplomatic, economic and strategic favours from the US. For example, the US removed Sudan from its list of terror sponsors and recognised Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region.

Until September 2020, only two Arab nations, namely Egypt and Jordan, which share borders with Israel, had officially recognised Israel by signing peace agreements in 1979 and 1994 respectively.

Historically, Arab countries demanded Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital as a prerequisite for peace talks.

Moroccan students protest

A day after the news on Morocco and Israel, on 11 December 2020, the National Union of Moroccan Students (NUMS) and the Morocco-based Organisation of the Student Renaissance (OSR), a national association open to all university students in Morocco, rejected the decision in different statements.

“We call on Moroccan students, all components of the university space, and all student organisations inside and outside Morocco to denounce the decisions of normalisation and move towards coordination and thinking about practical steps that support the cause [for Palestine],” NUMS stated.

On 22 December 2020, a student initiative against normalisation and aggression (SIANA), also issued a statement in which it rejected “the justification, misinformation, and brainwashing attempt” by those who favour the change in diplomatic relations with Israel.

A campaign, Moroccan Students Against Normalisation, was also launched and, in its name, several protests took place at Moroccan universities, including Ibn Tofail University and the University of Moulay Ismail.

Algeria, Tunisia and Sudan

Hana Saada, a doctoral student at the University of Algiers Benyoucef Benkhedda, told University World News that university students in Arab countries, especially in North Africa, have not remained silent in the face of the normalisation wave with Israel as they denounced, in the strongest terms, this move, “slamming all attempts at normalisation and Israel’s infiltration in our region”.

In Algeria, Tunisia and Sudan some student organisations have expressed their opposition to friendlier relations with Israel.

The Free Algerian Student Organization (FASO) rejected the Morocco-Israel agreement and the General Union of Tunisian Students described every agreement with Israel as “continuous attempts to perpetuate the reality of the siege on the Palestinian people and to continue aggression against them”.

Sudanese demonstrators, mostly university students, gathered in front of the faculty of medicine of the University of Khartoum in protest against the 24 October 2020 Sudanese government’s decision to resume diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel. Protest videos and photos were posted online.

Saada said students and the academic community should play a role in supporting the Palestinian cause by launching rising awareness campaigns, addressing the political elite and engaging in partisan activities to influence the decision-makers.

“Universities, for their part, should advocate activism for just causes because they are supposed to play a key role in forming collective consciousness and identity,” Saada pointed out.