Palestinian terrorist prisoners continue academic studies, despite Israeli prohibition

Palestinian prisoners who committed acts of terror are undertaking academic studies while serving their sentences, undermining the Israeli government.

By: Maurice Hirsch, Palestinian Media Watch

In April 2017, Palestinian Media Watch exposed that the Palestinian Authority is actively undermining a decision the Israeli government adopted, in response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, to prohibit Palestinian terrorist prisoners from receiving academic degrees while serving their sentences.

Despite the ban, the PA claimed 484 terrorist prisoners were studying for degrees in a program initiated by the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs. The program is run in cooperation with Al-Quds Open University and the PA Ministry of Education.

Regardless of the substantial alleged number of terrorist prisoner students, the Israeli Prison Service rejected the claim and responded to PMW that in accordance with the decision of the government, “security prisoners are not allowed to undertake academic studies.”

‘Academic revolution taking place in the prisons’

Notwithstanding this response, Director of the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake stated that “a thousand Palestinian prisoners who are in the prisons have joined the Palestinian universities.” Karake added that “an academic revolution is taking place in the prisons.” [Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Feb. 22, 2018]

Karake explained that the commission’s program for training the prisoners signed agreements with the Palestinian universities in order to enable the prisoner students to complete their studies. This is done through committees within the prisons that supervise the study process.

Karake’s reference to the number of terrorist prisoner students follows previous reports on the growth in the number of participants. In August 2017, the number of prisoners studying in the program had risen from 484 to 700. [Wattan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 12, 2017] In December 2017, during a ceremony to award a BA in Computer Science to a Palestinian terrorist serving a life sentence, Karake said that the number of terrorist prisoner students had risen to 840. [Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dec. 4, 2017]

Regarding the mechanism for the studies, Karake’s statements reflect an article published in the Al-Quds Open University newspaper that described how the program bypasses the Israeli Prison Service (IPS):

The PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs pays tuition.

Lawyers bring in study materials.

The university appoints terrorist prisoners with a master’s or a doctoral degree to oversee the terrorist students, give tests, and grade them.

Lawyers bring out grades to be recorded at the university. [The Al-Quds Open University Message, December 2016]

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‘Not dependent on whims of Israel Prison Service’

Director-General of the study program in the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Muhammad Al-Batta explained the success of the program:

“It is not dependent on the whims of the Israeli Prison Service and its steps, but rather is being carried out in direct contact with the academic supervisory committees within the prisons through a lawyer on behalf of the Prisoners’ Club (i.e., PA-funded organization).”

Additional evidence that indicates the existence of the terrorist prisoner student program appears in an interview with released prisoner Muhammad Abu Rizq, who served a 13-year sentence in an Israeli prison:

“We have succeeded in turning the prisons into a revolutionary academy that turns out fighters and academics – there has been a rise in the level of the guidance within the prisons, full praise to Allah, in addition to Al-Quds Open University that we honor and appreciate. There has been learning there and it still continues; a number of prisoners are in third and fourth semesters and are preparing for a fifth semester…” [Official PA TV, Palestine This Morning, Jan. 22, 2018]

It should be noted that according to PA law, in addition to the salaries the terrorists receive from the PA while in prison and upon their release, released terrorist prisoners are also entitled to have their university tuition paid by the PLO Commission of Prisoners.

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The continuous Palestinian reports on this subject, which include elaborate details of graduation and award ceremonies held in the presence of multiple PA and Fatah officials and interviews with released prisoners, would seem to suggest that the PA is indeed undermining the decision of Israel’s government and that Palestinian terrorist prisoners are undertaking academic studies while serving their sentences in Israeli prisons.

The author served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He then served as head of the Military Prosecution for Judea and Samaria. He is currently head of Legal Strategies for PMW and a senior military justice consultant for NGO Monitor.