A third-year Israeli-Arab medical student at the Israel Institute of Technology — better known as Technion, or Israel's MIT — is facing trial, and probable expulsion, for a Facebook status he wrote the day after three Israeli teens were infamously kidnapped in the West Bank.
"The Technion is planning to get him out of studies, but it will be done in the regular way," said Technion spokesman Itzhar Vardi over the phone today. He explained that the student, 24-year-old Murad Abu Elheja, will be tried by a three-person panel (two faculty members and a student) a few days from now, "so everything will be calm. People are very emotional now."
On June13, the Friday after the abduction, Elheja wrote in Arabic on his Facebook page: "Record... 3 goals for the national team despite its absence from the Palestinian World Cup!"
Once the teens were discovered dead, another Technion student who had screen-capped the status apparently sent it to a popular Israeli Facebook page called "Statusim Metzizim" ("Tweeting Statuses"). The Statusim post has since gotten about 15,000 likes and 20,000 shares.
Angry commenters called him a "dog," a "son of a bitch" and a disgrace to the medical profession. Some lamented that Israel would allow Arab "traitors" to study at its universities in the first place, and called Elheja a product of affirmative action. "He's pissing all over us and requesting to study medicine at our expense," wrote a Facebook user named Maya Morr.
Dozens of print-outs of the offending status (pictured above) were also posted all over Technion's medical building, along with the following explanation:
"This person is going to be a doctor in the State of Israel. This photo was taken by another student and posted in the Facebook group 'Students of Technion'. There were many replies asking for retribution, and a small number of replies from Arab students asking to leave him in peace, saying he was expressing his opinion in a democratic state. Jewish students banded together and sent a petition to the president of the Technion about this. He has a blue teudat zehut [he has Israeli citizenship]."
According to Technion spokesman Vardi, Elheja's fellow students filed a complaint to police, as well as a petition to Technion administrators asking that Eljeha be expelled. He will be tried for violating two of Technion's policies: 1) respecting the feelings of fellow students, and 2) upholding the reputation of the university.
Technion's official statement on the matter, titled "Technion's response to the abominable Facebook post regarding the murder of the three boys":
Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie condemned in the strongest terms the despicable and contemptible post on Facebook. Prof. Lavie said "we denounce such utterances, which have no place in human dialogue. We are determined to fully investigate this incident and take necessary and forceful measures against the writer of this post."
Prof. Lavie added that the entire Technion family, together with all Israelis, mourns the three boys and conveys its profound condolences to their families.
The Technion semester is technically over, although students are still taking their final exams. "He's invited to come to exams," said Technion spokesman Vardi of Elheja, but added: "I guess he’s a little frightened now to come. He’s not talking with the Technion now. They’re trying to get him to come to the judgment. This morning I went to the dean of undergraduate students, and I was told that they’re trying to get him to come, but he’s only answering SMS. I don’t think he agreed yet — we don’t know if he’ll come."
Although Elheja's trial has yet to take place, Vardi spoke to the Journal as if he was sure the student's academic and professional career are over. "I guess he will not get beyond the third year," he said, later adding: "This situation is a punishment itself. He will not be a doctor."
According to Vardi: "He’s hiding, because many people are angry at him. First of all, many Jews, but of course also his family, because it’s a known family in the north. It is a family of many doctors, and it can be very sensitive when people are coming in for treatment and they hear the family name."
Elheja did not respond to a request for comment from the Journal, but he did post a response to all the outrage on his Facebook page.
He wrote that media reports on his status had "caused a wave of militancy and threats." He called his original post, which he wrote before he knew what would happen to the kids, "black humor," and said that because it was "not a good joke," he had deleted it a few hours after posting.
"I hurt from the murders of the three boys, just as I hurt from the murder of Palestinians, including children and youths killed during 'Operation Brother's Keeper,' including the child Mahmoud Dudeen, age 13. ... Clearly some of the harsh and violent responses are derived from racism and prejudice, and in such an atmosphere, the text was judged not according to the true content, but according to the nationality of the author."
One commenter over at Statusim Metzizim pointed out that a similar joke was actually employed by Israeli-Arab journalist and author Sayed Kashua (named "the greatest living Hebrew writer" by Tower Magazine) on June 29 at a Hebrew University graduation speech. Kashua told a story about his three-year-old son commenting that "Palestine took three" in the World Cup, a line that reportedly caused some students and parents to walk out.
In the days that followed, Kashua wrote: "The website commenters wished for my children to be kidnapped, wanted to break my legs and wrote that my mother sleeps with the whole village. My wife was frightened. I closed windows and pulled down blinds."
Perhaps we can apply a response to the Kashua witch hunt by Professor Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, dean of Hebrew University's Faculty of Social Sciences, to Elheja's situation as well:
"Kashua came to the ceremony and spoke from a place of pain and love. He was very emotional and at the end of his speech he burst out in tears. Concerning the kidnapped youths, Kashua explicitly said it is an inappropriate act. He did not justify it. The man came to speak from a place of love, peace and pain. He has another voice. He is a respected author. True, he is an Arab. But the university is a place to hear opinions. The test for all of us is to listen, even in difficult moments."