How the “most moral army in the world” wages war on students

This article from nearly two years ago is worth repeating here because it illustrates, through the story of cruel victimisation of just these two students, why the Palestinians must be freed from the shackles of Israeli occupation and oppression and why the international community must cease its foot-dragging.

 

If there’s one thing the Israelis are good at it’s making war on women and children.

They killed 952 Palestinian kiddies in their homeland between 2000 and the start of the Gaza blitzkrieg in December 2008 (according to B’Tselem statistics). They murdered at least 350 more during that onslaught and have kept Gaza under daily attack ever since. So the brave Israelis must have eliminated nearly 1500 youngsters by now. Would anyone care to guess how many they left bleeding, maimed and disabled?

The “most moral army in the world” also loves waging war against Palestinian university students. Not long ago I wrote about Merna, an honors student in her final year majoring in English. Israeli soldiers frequently rampaged through her Bethlehem refugee camp in the middle of the night, ransacking homes and arbitrarily arresting residents. They took away her family one by one. First her 14-year-old cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while she sat outside her family home during a curfew.

Next the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22 year-old artist, and imprisoned him for 4 years.  Then they came back for Merna’s 18-year-old brother. Not content with that the military came again, this time to take her youngest brother – the ‘baby’ of the family – just 16. These were the circumstances under which Merna had to study.

Israeli military law treats Palestinians as adults as soon as they reach 16, a flagrant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Israeli youngsters are regarded as children until 18. Palestinians are dealt with by Israeli military courts, even when it’s a civil matter. These courts ignore international laws and conventions, so there’s no legal protection for individuals under Israeli military occupation.

As detention is based on secret information, which neither the detainee nor his lawyer is allowed to see, it is impossible to mount a proper defence. Besides, the Security Service always finds a bogus excuse to keep detainees locked up “in the greater interest of the security ofIsrael”. Although detainees have the right to review and appeal, they are unable to challenge the evidence and check facts as all information presented to the Court is classified. So much for Israeli ‘justice’.

Faced with this great mental stress Merna nevertheless determined to carry on with her studies. The most moral army in the world may have robbed her brothers of an education, but she would still fight for hers.

To get to Bethlehem University, or any other, many students have to run the gauntlet of Israeli checkpoints. “Sometimes they take our ID cards and they spend ages writing down all the details, just to make us late,” said one. Students are often made to remove shoes, belt and bags. “It’s like an airport. Many times we are kept waiting outside for up to an hour, rain or shine, they don’t care.” The soldiers attempt to forcibly remove students’ clothes or they swear and shout sexual slurs at female students.

Some tell how they are sexually harassed on their way to university and spend the rest of the day worrying what the Israelis will do to them on their way home. The constant humiliation undermines student motivation and concentration.

Five years ago the Israelis forcibly removed four Birzeit University students from their studies in the West Bank and illegally sent them back to the Gaza Strip. All four were due to graduate by the end of that academic year. There was an outcry from around the world and the Israeli Army Legal Advisor was bombarded with faxes and letters demanding that the students be allowed to return to their studies.

The world’s most moral army agreed that the students might be allowed to return to Birzeit if they signed a guarantee to permanently return to the Gaza Strip after completing their studies. This effectively exposed Israel’s policy to impose a final separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even though the two are internationally recognized as one integral territory. Under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory, but since when did Israel give a damn about international law? The racist regime makes it virtually impossible for Gaza students to reach the eight Palestinian universities in theWest Bank. In 1999 some 350 Gaza students were studying at Birzeit. Today there are almost none. 

It was no great surprise, then, to hear from Bethlehem University a few days ago that Berlanty Azzam, a 4th year Business Administration student was being held in detention by the Israeli military authorities with the intention of deporting her to Gaza “for trying to complete her studies at Bethlehem University.”

Berlanty, a Christian girl, is originally from Gaza but has lived in theWest Bank since 2005 after receiving a travel permit from the military to cross from Gaza to the West Bank. She too is being robbed of her degree at the last minute. She was detained at the Container checkpoint between Bethlehem and Ramallah after attending a job interview in Ramallah.

The 21 year-old was due to graduate before Christmas. On Wednesday night the most moral army in the world blindfolded and handcuffed her, loaded her into a military jeep and drove her from Bethlehem to Gaza, despite assurances by the Israeli Military Legal Advisor’s office that she would not be deported before an attorney from Gisha (an Israeli NGO working to protect Palestinians’ freedom of movement) had the opportunity to petition the Israeli court for her return to classes in Bethlehem.

When they’d crossed the border the world’s most moral army dumped Berlanty in the darkness late at night and told her: “You are inGaza.”

“Since 2005, I refrained from visiting my family in Gazafor fear that I would not be permitted to return to my studies in theWest Bank,” Berlanty told Gisha on her mobile phone before the soldiers confiscated it. “Now, just two months before graduation, I was arrested and taken toGazain the middle of the night, with no way to finish my degree.”

Bethlehem University wants to mobilize people from around the world to protest. Who better to contact, I thought, than the Palestinian ambassador in London, Professor Manuel Hassassian, who happens to be a former vice-president of that excellent seat of learning? “Have you contacted the Israeli ambassador for an explanation to this outrage?” I emailed him.

Next day, having heard nothing, I emailed again: “Update… She has been removed to Gaza blindfolded and handcuffed! What is the Embassy doing about this please?” Another 24 hours have gone by and the silence is deafening. 

I had of course simultaneously emailed the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor asking him, please, to make enquiries. “On the face of it, this seems a senseless outrage. The student concerned has, I believe, just started her final year. I wonder what Mr Prosor or Mr Netanyahu would say if the education of their sons and daughters or grandchildren was disrupted in this manner.” And next day, having heard nothing, I sent the same update about Berlanty being blindfolded and handcuffed. Another 24 hours have gone by… still nothing, not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement from Israel’s press office, which usually responds like lightning to anything with news value.

If this had been a Jewish girl deprived of her university degree and life chances the Israeli embassy would be having hysterics and hurling accusations of religious hatred and anti-semitism. But it’s the Jewish state screwing up the young life of a Christian, so that’s alright then.

 

31 October 2009

 

A thousand-and-one reasons why Palestine must get independence…

…and here’s perhaps the most important

The following report from Bethlehem University that academic staff had been attacked yet again, this time by Israeli squatters, reminds me of how the Israelis apparently resent the Palestinians’ fine education tradition. They have seen to it that Palestinian universities suffer the severest restrictions in delivering knowledge.

Bethlehem University, which includes many Muslims among its students, has been closed a dozen times by Israeli storm-troopers.  In 2002 it sustained 4 Israeli missile hits, three to the Millennium Hall and one to the Heritage Centre in the Library. 100 soldiers later stormed into the buildings and did further damage.

In January 2003 the university’s president pleaded: “Can anyone do anything to change this systematic strangulation?” Nevertheless staff succeed and students continue to flourish against all odds.

On one of my visits I spoke with Brother Cyril, a kindly, mild-mannered American from Minnesota, who ran the University. He was about to go on leave. “What do your friends back home say when you tell them what’s happened here?” I asked.

He shrugged. “They listen for ten minutes then switch off.”

 

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Yara Odeh
 
 
Miss Yara Odeh, a Bethlehem University masters degree student, was one of the
victims of the violent attacks.
 
 
 
6 September 2011
Bethlehem, Palestine
 
Dear Alumni and Friends of Bethlehem
University,
 
 
Generally, I am delighted to write to you with some encouraging news about happenings at Bethlehem University. Today, however, I have some disturbing and unfortunate news to share with you.
 
A Bethlehem University Professor and Student Survive Two Separate Attacks by Israeli Settlers 
 
In the early morning hours of Monday, 5 September 2011, while travelling in the West Bank between the Palestinian villages of Al-Lubban and Turmos Aya and near the Israeli settlements of Ofarim and Bet Ariye along the Nablus-Ramallah, Dr. Adwan Adwan, a faculty member in the Arabic Department at Bethlehem University, was the victim of a violent attack by some 20 Israeli settlers who threw rocks in his face, injuring his head, shoulder, and stomach. His car was blocked by a pile of burning tires when he quickly came under what he said felt like a well-orchestrated ambush. Dr. Adwan eventually was able to speed away from the scene and get himself to a hospital for treatment. “I felt lucky to escape with my life,” he says.
 
On the same day and further along the same road, near the settlement of Shiloh in the Palestinian Territories, Miss Yara Odeh, a Bethlehem University masters degree student, was the victim of a violent attack by some Israeli settlers. Yara found herself stuck in what appeared to be a traffic jam caused by Israeli settlers pelting cars with rocks. With the road blocked, she escaped from her car through the passenger door and ran toward nearby Israeli soldiers, calling for help. She reports being refused help and being told to return to her car. “The settlers seemed not so much interested in damaging the car as they were in harming me,” she says of the incident.
 
The Bethlehem University administration is extremely disturbed by these attacks on members of the academic community. “We value the lives of our faculty and students,” says Dr. Michael Sansur, Executive Vice President at Bethlehem University. “Each and every day our faculty engage our students in promoting democracy, peace, and justice. We are fortunate to have a campus atmosphere that is known to be an oasis of peace. These violent and aggressive attacks on our students and faculty from Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories are horrifying and unjust.
 
We are grateful for the well-being of Dr. Adwan and Yara in surviving these traumatic events and pledge to continue in our efforts to prepare our graduates to take their place as ethical leaders in fostering shared values, moral principles and dedication to serving the common good.”
 
As reported in the media and by the United Nations, there appears to be an increase in the number of Palestinians who are being attacked by groups of Israeli settlers. The United Nations and other international human rights and aid organizations report that more than 500,000 Israeli settlers, many of whom are armed, occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem.Please continue to keep us in your prayers.
 
Blessings to you,
Brother Jack Curran, FSC, PhD
Vice President for Development
jcurran@bethlehem.edu
 
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Rue des Freres
Bethlehem – Palestine
Tel: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
www.bethlehem.edu
Bethlehem University
‘Inspiring Innovation and Creating the Future’  
 
Hecker Center, Suite 330 3025 Fourth Street, NE | Washington, DC 20017 US
 

It is unclear whether the British government intends joining the US and Israel in their spoiling tactics when the Palestinians’ bid for independence is put to the United Nations later this month. I have asked my MP about that and I hope UK readers will press their own MPs on the subject.

 

8 September 2011

 

Will ‘Nipper’ Cameron obey Tel Aviv’s trumpet call or vote for Palestinian freedom?

 

The little white dog listened intently to his master’s voice from the gramophone trumpet…

 

 

Britain and NATO were keen as mustard to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to “protect civilians” but too cowardly to do the same for the Palestinians, who are constantly on the receiving end of Israel’s air strikes and armed incursions. Muslims and Christians alike have been slaughtered or maimed in their thousands and had their homes, farms and water resources stolen while waiting 63 years for the international community to deliver them from Israel’s brutal occupation.

And Israel now plans to steal Palestine’s offshore gas.

Not surprisingly, after decades of fruitless peace talks with a gun to their heads the Palestinians are about to apply to the United Nations for recognition of their own state based on the 1949 armistice lines that are universally regarded as the border with Israel.

The bid is due to be made on 20 September or soon afterwards, under Lebanon’s UN presidency. Meanwhile, the US and Israel have been conducting a huge diplomatic campaign to sabotage the Palestinian move.  

Most of the world already supports the Palestinian cause. The trouble is, the will of the people in theUS, Britain and most of Europe is ignored by political leaders who have allowed themselves to be suckered into the Zionist cause. That’s Western-style democracy for you. Freedom fighters, beware.

It remains to be seen whether Britain, whose prime minister is a self-proclaimed Zionist and, some are now claiming, a direct descendent of Moses and has pledged “indestructible” support for the Israeli regime, and whose foreign secretary has been an adoring Friend of Israel since he was in short trousers, will join in blocking the bid for freedom.

The other day David Cameron said of the successful Libyan uprising: “Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya. This will be and must be and should be Libyan-led and a Libyan-owned process with broad international support co-ordinated by the United Nations.” He’s keen as mustard – again – to do all this for the Libyans, but will he do the same for the Palestinians? When they held free and fair elections in 2006, remember, democracy-preaching Britain didn’t like the result and joined the US and Israel in trashing the Palestinians’ fledgling democracy and strangling their economy.

It’s not difficult to imagine Cameron and Hague snapping to attention when Tel Aviv speaks, the mantra-like instructions amplified as usual by Washington… “Let there be no doubt… blah, blah…symbolic action to isolate Israel will not create an independent Palestinian state… blah, blah…there’s no shortcut to statehood… blah, blah…must return to the negotiating table…”.

The famous trade-mark white dog ‘Nipper’, listening intently to his master’s voice from the gramophone trumpet, comes instantly to mind. And fluffy American bitches have had their coiffed heads wedged so firmly up Tel Aviv’s trumpet for such a long time that it’s worn like a permanent fashion statement over there.

The question is, can ‘Nipper’ Cameron extract his head from that trumpet long enough to do the decent thing with regard to democracy and freedom in the Middle East, in tune with the British people’s wishes?

International support is one thing. The Palestinian leadership is something else. I read with alarm that Saeb Erekat, President Abbass’s sidekick, heads the team responsible for preparing the Palestinian submission to the UN. I thought Erekat resigned as chief negotiator following revelations by al-Jazeera that his team, during peace talks with the Israelis, was willing to make foolish concessions and couldn’t negotiate its way out of a paper bag. A few months ago he was reported to be in Washington talking with US officials about reviving the discredited peace process. How counter-productive can he get?

And such is the legal and constitutional tangle surrounding the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), the PNC (Palestinian National Council), the PA (Palestinian Authority) and their relationship to each other, that legal advisers now warn that a move towards statehood might adversely affect the rights of the refugees, who account for more than half of all Palestinians. If the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, is replaced by a state the change in legal status could mean that core rights, such as the right of return, are lost forever, it is claimed. Other say that is nonsense and just scare tactics.

Nevertheless, if the whole deal is not very cleverly handled it could have unwelcome consequences. On the other hand, even partial success can change the dynamics of this very miserable situation.

All the same, are these really the right people to be in charge of  Palestine’s fate?

25 August 2011