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Israel extends detention of Palestinian photojournalist, student council president

The two young women were detained by Israeli forces at night in their homes last week
Shatha Hasan, left, the president of Birzeit University's student council; and Bushra al-Tawil, a photojournalist from the West Bank (Screengrab)

An Israeli military court sentenced a Palestinian journalist to four months in administrative detention on Sunday, and extended the detention of the Birzeit university student council president, local media reported.

Bushra al-Tawil, 26, a photojournalist from the Ramallah governorate in the central occupied West Bank, was arrested late at night on 11 December during an army raid in her home.

Tawil is the daughter of a leading Hamas movement member in the West Bank, Jamal al-Tawil, who was released from Israeli prison six days before his daughter’s arrest.

Tawil has gone on a hunger strike since her arrest, according to local media.

Israel’s administrative detention is a highly controversial policy used almost exclusively against Palestinians, in which prisoners can be detained without charge or trial, without the possibility of appeal or knowing what accusations are being levelled against them.

Many Palestinian prisoners have resorted to going on hunger strike to protest being sentenced to administrative detention.

Tawil was arrested three times before and has spent a total of 24 months in Israeli prisons since 2011.

She was released in 2011 at the age of 18 after having served five months of her 16-month sentence when she was included in a prisoner swap deal in exchange for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

But she was re-arrested in 2014 in a wave of arrests in the West Bank and spent the remaining 11 months of her sentence in detention.

In November 2017, she was arrested and detained for eight months.

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Meanwhile, Shatha Hasan, a student at Birzeit University and the president of the student council, was also arrested last week at her family home in Ramallah.

Hasan's detention has been extended until next Tuesday, 24 December.

Local media reported that Israeli forces installed a makeshift checkpoint on the road leading to Birzeit University in the central West Bank and checked the identities of students ahead of a conference organised by the students’ arm of the Hamas movement at the university.

Birzeit University has long been a target for the Israeli army. In March 2018, then-student council president Omar Kiswani was detained during a raid by undercover Israeli forces on campus.

Since the Fatah party-led Palestinian Authority (PA) has not held presidential elections since 2005, student elections at Birzeit - the second-largest Palestinian university and the most geographically diverse - have served as a barometer of wider Palestinian politics, especially among the younger population.

Since 2015, the al-Wafaa Islamic bloc, which is affiliated with the Hamas movement, has won the majority of votes in student elections, ahead of the Fatah-linked Martyr Yasser Arafat faction.

While Hamas has hailed Wafaa's victories as proof of the party's popularity in the West Bank, some analysts have interpreted the results as a rejection of the PA on a historically pro-Fatah campus.

But, students say, it makes little difference to Israeli forces as to which party has the upper hand at Birzeit. Since 2004, the army has arrested at least 11 student council representatives at the university, regardless of their affiliation to Fatah or Hamas.

According to Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer, 5,000 Palestinians were detained by Israel as of November - 460 of whom are under administrative detention.