Hamas scored another victory on Wednesday at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank, winning 25 seats in the university’s student elections.
The university, considered the most liberal of all campuses in the West Bank, is seen as an indicator for the political climate across the West Bank.
The win was the second in a row for the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafaa’ Bloc, which won 26 seats last year, the first Hamas win at Birzeit since 2007.
The Martyr Yasser Arafat Bloc, affiliated with the Fatah movement, Hamas’ biggest rivals, won 21 seats on Wednesday, while the left-wing Qutub coalition bloc, affiliated with several leftist groups, the most well known of which being the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took 5 seats.
Security was airtight while polling took place, as students and faculty alike take the elections very seriously, using several methods to safeguard against voter fraud.
Students voted using their university issued numbers to receive their specific ballot, which was filled out in lecture halls monitored by university faculty as well as groups of student union leaders from each of the main parties.
“We take notes as each student puts their vote in the box, some we can mark by their clothes, other students we know personally, and the rest is kind of a guess,” one of the Fatah-affiliated student monitors told Mondoweiss during polling.
The monitors kept track of their numbers and consulted with others from their groups as a way to hold a kind of exit poll and anticipate the outcomes before results came in.
After voting was finished, the monitors for that specific polling room, as well as university faculty, walked the sealed ballot boxes to an area where all ballots are counted, without the ballots ever leaving the sight of the student monitors, one faculty member explained.
Hussam Mansour, a Birzeit student dressed in military garb with a green Hamas band around his arm, told Mondoweiss that he was supporting Hamas this year because of what he had seen the group do as leaders in the student council the year previously.
“My father was a big captain in the Palestinian Authority, and my family supports Fatah,” Mansour explained. “But I don’t see the PA doing anything good for the people, and everything that goes to Fatah goes to the PA government.”
“To me, being Hamas is not about being an Islamist or something, it’s about getting things done. I saw yesterday during the student debate three students wearing crosses, Christian students, who were supporting Hamas,” he said. “And I saw throughout this year, the way Hamas incorporated all student factions in their activities, and advocated for all students regardless of their politics, and that is something I support.”
In line with Mansour’s observations, Mondoweiss saw several young women without headscarf sporting green bands around their arm in support of Hamas.
According the recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 69 percent of Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 22 are calling for Palestinian President and Head of the Fatah movement Mahmoud Abbas to resign from office, five percent higher than the general population.
Mansour said students that were less likely to support the Fatah movement’s student group due to their distaste for the PA president were more likely to vote Hamas than for other groups because they saw Hamas as the faction most able to challenge Fatah.
Waleed, a student supporter of the Qutub leftist coalition bloc, said that while he was voting Qutub, many of his leftist friends were choosing to vote Hamas as a way to insure a Fatah loss.
“We (Qutub) don’t get the votes of the people who are voting with the idea in mind that they want Abbas to resign, because those people are looking for who has the power and the numbers to take over. When they see Hamas is the party that is able to beat Fatah they vote for them, even if they are leftists,” Waleed said.
While Hamas won with numbers similar to last year’s election, the results were never a sure thing.
Two years ago, Birzeit University nearly doubled the amount of freshmen admitted each school year, meaning the freshmen and sophomore classes are much larger than the junior and senior classes.
As in 2015, the freshmen class was a wildcard, and both Hamas and Qutub affiliated upper-classmen accused Fatah of attempting to mislead freshmen into voting Fatah through a number of unsubstantiated claims.
Haya Bimbashi, who voted Fatah on Wednesday told Mondoweiss that while she was not at all political, she decided to take part in the elections this year and vote Fatah just the day before the elections.
“I saw the student debate yesterday and I liked what Fatah leaders had to say, so I think they deserve to win it,” Bimbashi told Mondoweiss. “In the end I’m not really politically involved, but it’s fun to take part in the elections.”
One thing was clear, while students took the elections seriously, they also kept their rivalries civil and friendly, with inter-mixed groups of students hanging out on campus together, eating, joking and enjoying the democratic process.