North African students mobilise for Palestinian cause

University student unions from North African countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia, have held demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine and to protest against Israel.

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire took effect on 21 May and has suspended the fighting that escalated from 7 May, killing about 320 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 persons in Israel, according to the Guardian.

On 16 May, the student union in Morocco held a virtual meeting in which students from Algeria and Morocco joined as they spoke to Palestinian activists.

Speaking to University World News via Facebook messenger, one of the virtual meeting’s participants, Zerkani Souleyman, from the student union in Algeria, the Union Générale Estudiantine Libre (Free Student General Union), said the meeting considered the ongoing role that students could play in supporting the Palestinian cause.

Actions could include protests at various universities, seminars and forums, supporting media campaigns, writing about the issues and promoting graduate research work about the issue, said Souleyman.

Similarly, Sheikh Ibrahim Ould Al-Din, the secretary general of the student union in Mauritania, Union Générale des Étudiants Mauritaniens (General Union of Mauritanian Students), told University World News via WhatsApp that “students’ unions should also provide financial support through cash donations and moral support [to the Palestinian cause] through solidarity stances”.

The escalation of violence in the densely populated Palestinian enclave of Gaza and Israel was triggered on 7 May by Israel’s indication of the forced eviction of hundreds of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied east Jerusalem along with Israeli police clashes with Palestinians around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the three holiest sites in Islam.

Tensions spread from occupied east Jerusalem to Gaza after Palestinian resistance groups in the area vowed to retaliate if Israeli forces’ and settlers’ assaults on Palestinians did not stop. This escalated into rocket attacks by Palestinians and Israel responding with heavy bombardment.

Students’ solidarity stand

On 15 May, the student union in Morocco also launched a campaign to support Palestine on Facebook.

“We call all Moroccan students in all universities and higher education institutions as well as all student structures for the mobilisation and engagement in the student protest campaign, starting from 17 May in all Moroccan universities, by organising rallies and mass demonstrations, along with all forms of expression in support of our people in Jerusalem, Gaza and all of Palestine,” it said.

The students also reiterated its rejection of the normalisation of diplomatic ties with Israel.

“We intend to organise a national student stand in support of Palestine and to condemn the crimes of the Israeli occupation army and the normalisation plan,” the union said.

In Tunisia and Algeria, the student unions also called on members to support protest actions to support the Palestinian cause.

On 13 May, the union in Algeria called “all its branches across the Algerian universities’ [landscape] to mobilise for the week.”

“We, in UGEL (the Algerian student union), have, since our establishment, considered the Palestinian issue to be a central issue … our support for the Palestinian cause is not seasonal or occasional, but rather a permanent and continuous activity …” the union said on 16 May in a statement posted on its official Facebook page.

Souleyman, the student leader from Algeria, said student unions’ role was to create intellectual awareness, media support and to highlight the role of liberation within the student community.

“As today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow, raising awareness about the issue in student university circles could transform the Palestinian issue from a ‘feeling in the hearts’ to action on the part of governments,” said Souleyman.

This news report was updated on 23 May 2021.