Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No "security" issue - but Berlanty still not allowed to complete her studies

BERLANTY AZZAM No 'security risk' , but this Palestinian student is accused of "living illegally" in the Palestinian West Bank - unlike thousands of Israeli settlers?

THE man on the television the other evening was telling us things on the West Bank were getting better, that the Israeli army roadblocks have been reduced, and more tourists and pilgrims are going to Bethlehem. I imagine that will bring a wry smile to one young woman. The road to Bethlehem has been firmly closed to 22-year old student Berlanty Azzam, two months before she was due to complete her degree in business studies at Bethlehem University.

Berlanty was detained on October 28, as she returned to Bethlehem from Ramallah. Because her identity card still gave her place of residence as Gaza, she was forcibly taken there, in blindfold and handcuffs, even though she had lived in Bethlehem for four years and was about to complete her BA degree.

Yesterday, Tuesday, November 24, the Israeli State Attorney's Office confirmed to the High Court of Justice that the Israeli army is maintaining its refusal to let Berlanty return to her studies. Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, had petitioned on her behalf, and Berlanty had asked for legal representation . The State's update was submitted following a military hearing at the Erez Crossing in the presence of Gisha attorney, Advocate Yadin Elam.

The Israeli authorities admit that Berlanty Azzam is not guilty of any offence, nor is she a "security" risk

But in their statement they continue to claim that Berlanty was present in the West Bank "illegally”, despite the fact that Berlanty herself clarified in her military hearing that she travelled from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank legally – using an entry permit to Israel issued to her by the military commander. This permit was issued to her after she passed a rigorous security investigation. Moreover, after she entered the West Bank, Berlanty did everything she could to change her address as listed on her identity card to her new place of residence, Bethlehem. Over the past four years, she and her parents submitted numerous applications to change her address but all were summarily rejected – they were told that Israel, which controls the Palestinian population registry, refuses to register changes in address from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

After she heard about the army’s refusal to let her finish her studies, Berlanty Azzam said: “I’m extremely disappointed. All I want is to be able to return to my studies in Bethlehem. I need the court to deliver justice”.

Advocate Yadin Elam said: “The army’s decision not to allow a promising student to complete her studies is a sign of severe myopia. It is also a symptom of broad-ranging Israeli policy that does not perceive students for who they really are – young people with the desire and potential to build a better future – but rather as a homogenous group that constitutes a threat. I hope that the Court will acknowledge Berlanty's right to education”.

Since 2000, Israel has enforced a sweeping ban preventing Palestinians from Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. In 2007, a High Court decision determined that students from Gaza wishing to study in the West Bank should be allowed to do so “in cases where positive humanitarian implications are known”, However, to the best of Gisha’s knowledge, since this judgment was handed down in 2007, Israel has not issued a single entry permit for the purpose of traveling to study in the West Bank to a student from Gaza. Just last summer, Israel refused to allow 12 students from Gaza to study at Bethlehem University. In the late 1990s, about 1,000 students from Gaza studied in the West Bank, most of them in disciplines that are not offered in the Gaza Strip.

An estimated 25,000 people live in the West Bank but have Gaza addresses listed on their identity cards. Like Berlanty, due to this fact alone they are at risk of being removed from their homes and separated from their families, jobs and studies. These people, some of whom have lived in the West Bank for decades, are extremely limited in their daily movements due to the fear that they will be detained and removed. This is due to the fact that Israel does not recognize their right to live in the West Bank and, since 2000, has not allowed addresses to be changed from Gaza to the West Bank. As a result, they have limited opportunities for employment, business and studies. These policies are not only a breach of Israel’s obligations under international accords to treat the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a “single territorial entity” but they also inhibit the healthy development of Palestinian society.

To read a position paper addressing Israeli policies regarding Gaza Strip residents residing in the West Bank, see:

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