Abu Dis lies to the east of Jerusalem. It is designated Area B under the Oslo Accords of 1995. Now home to the central al-Quds University (AQU) campus, the village and its surrounding neighbourhoods have been severed economically and socially from Jerusalem since the erection of the Annexation Wall in 2005.1
Abu Dis is one of Jerusalem’s oldest satellite communities, sitting high upon a ridge just 4km to the west of the Old City. Its elevated setting provides impressive views of the surrounding neighbourhoods of a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah, al-’Eizariyah and Jabal al-Mukaber.
Abu Dis was established in the second century BCE. Its name is said to derive from the Arabic word "Dissa" referring to the “thick woods” which surrounded the village until the British colonial era in the early 20th century. The village fell under Jordanian jurisdiction from the 1948 Nakba until the 1967 Naksa at which time it was occupied by Israeli forces and 10% of its land was annexed into Jerusalem.2
Situated along the Jericho Road and (once) only a ten minutes drive from Damascus Gate, Abu Dis was poised to become a thriving eastern satellite neighbourhood of Jerusalem. With the establishment of al-Quds University in the village in 1984, Abu Dis also became home to a vibrant student population. The blossoming trade and tourism sectors were brought to an abrupt stop by the Annexation Wall which was completed in the area in 2005. It completely severed the centuries-old flow of people and goods between Jerusalem and the village.3
Since the Oslo accords in 1995, Abu Dis has been governed by a local council which is responsible for infrastructure in the village as well as developing projects for marginalized groups such as women and children.
In 2011, the unemployment rate in Abu Dis reached 60 percent. Many of those affected had previously worked in the Israeli labour market but have suffered from significant restrictions on permits in the recent years.4 The establishment of al-Quds University in Abu Dis in 1984 turned the village into an academic and economic hub. The university hosts over 13,000 students each year.5 This influx of students has helped relieve some of the economic pressure felt by the residents. In total, nearly 32,000 people commute daily to work and to study in Abu Dis.6
al-Quds University was created as a merger of four colleges in Beit Hanina, Sheikh Jarrah, al-Bireh, Tubas and Abu Dis, where the main campus is.7 Recently AQU formed a partnership with New York’s Bard College, offering graduates a U.S. and a Palestinian degree at both the Bachelor’s and Master’s level. AQU offers classes in Arabic and also in English for those enrolled in the Bard College program. It is widely considered to be among the most prominent Palestinian academic institutions.
Yet since its inauguration, AQU has been a target of systematic Israeli attacks and restrictions. Israeli occupation authorities refuse to certify AQU as a Foreign Institute of Higher Education, meaning that thousands of AQU graduates - including Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or Jerusalem residency - are not eligible to work in the Israeli market.8 This means that the 80 doctors who graduate each year from the faculty of medicine, of which approximately ⅓ hold Israeli citizenship, are forbidden from taking exams that would certify them in Israel.9 The reasons for refusal are not altogether clear, either because the Jerusalem occupation municipality rejects the name ‘al-Quds’, or because they operate in ‘two states.’ However, it has never been suggested by Israeli authorities that it in anyway related to ‘academic standards.’10 In April 2014, the occupation’s Jerusalem District Court accepted the petition of 55 doctors from East Jerusalem who studied medicine at al-Quds University, and has ordered the Health Ministry to allow them to take physician-licensing exams.11
The Annexation Wall
The Annexation Wall has isolated Abu Dis from Jerusalem. Until 2001, with the erection of a fence which preceded the concrete wall that stands there today, the city was the residents’ social and cultural centre. The construction of the Wall has severely harmed the Abu Dis community. According to the Abu Dis local council, the construction of the Wall is causing forced displacement of Abu Dis residents, as many were not able to access their workplaces in Jerusalem and 48 lands, land prices have dropped, and 40% of Abu Dis’ agricultural lands were confiscated as a direct result of the isolation from Jerusalem.12
In addition, the wall has separated the main campus of AQU in Abu Dis from its other campuses in Jerusalem, significantly hampering academic life of the university. On October 1, 2003, a campaign was launched by AQU students and professors in protest against the planned route of the Wall which was set to cut through the university campus. Under international pressure and amidst student protests, Israel changed the route of the Wall.13
Village lands have been confiscated by Israel under security ordinances in order to expand the Jewish settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Kfar Adumim. Massive land confiscation altered the lifestyle of the residents, many of whom had relied on agriculture as their mainstay. The Wall ruins 809 dunums of land and isolates 10,000 dunums from the village to enable the expansion of the colonies of Ma’ale Adumim and Qedar. The Zionist expansion ensures a continuity of built-up Jewish areas between these settlements and the settlements which dot Jerusalem. Previously, Abu Dis lost 16,000 dunums for settlements bypass roads which serve these colonies.14
Neglect of archaeological sites
Abu Dis has several historical sites such as Khirbet Zaaroura and Khirbet Umm Jammal, but the Palestinian authority failed to maintain them or treat them as part of the Palestinian heritage.
Incursion & Attacks by the Israeli army
Abu Dis, like all Palestinian villages and towns, is frequently targeted by the Israeli Occupation Forces. The army has been known to fire tear gas against the Palestinian youth. The Palestinian youth have tried many times to demolish the Apartheid Wall in front of AQU, and they’ve succeeded in creating a hole which was 50 cm wide and 60 cm long.15
It is known that the IOF doesn’t only target youth on streets, but also inside the University campus. During 2013, the IOF attacked the University 26 times which caused the injury of more than 1,796 students and staff. Moreover, on the 14th, 22nd, and the 30th of December 2014, the IOF attacked the University campus, leaving more than 238 students and staff injured,16 as well as preventing students and staff from leaving the University building for 5 hours. The attack on the University caused serious damage to the buildings and vehicles as a result of firing bombs and bullets.
In addition to denying recognition to AQU accreditation, the attacks on its Abu Dis campus further highlight the importance of the academic boycott of Israel to hold it accountable for its continuous restrictions on Palestinian academic freedom.