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AAUJ and the effects of occupation & conflict

Written by admin  •  Tuesday, 30.06.2009, 10:47
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Since its founding in 2000, the Arab American University in Jenin (AAUJ) has faced numerous obstacles imposed upon it by the Israeli occupation.  University students and staff have been killed, injured, and imprisoned and the university campus has been raided by Israeli forces. Visa and immigration restrictions prevent the University from hiring long-term foreign staff members or offering degree programs to foreign students.

The university was opened on the 28th of September 2000 on the same day that (the former Israeli PM) Ariel Sharon entered the Masjid Al-Aqsa and the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada which had a negative impact on the students. Only 224 of the total 432 enrolled students actually attended the university due to the political situation at that time.

One of AAUJ’s goals “as a private Arab university that is close to the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948”, is to attract students from those areas as well as attracting students from neighbouring Arab countries. Due to the change in the political situation and the occupationÂ’s additional restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians, this goal was difficult to realise and resulted in a noticeable decrease of enrolled students.

Students and Staff Killed and Imprisoned

Since its founding, 7 AAUJ students and 2 members of staff have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces.

A number of AAUJ staff and students have been detained. Many spend months and even years in prison which disrupts their university education. After their release students find it difficult to continue their studies as they fall behind their friends and colleagues, some of whom graduate by the time of their release.

24 students were arrested in the academic year of 2008-2009

At least 83 enrolled students in the second semester for the academic year of 2008-2009 have been in detention before.

Israeli immigration controls

The Israeli authorities often refuse to give visas for international academics wishing to teach at the university. In July 2007, the English department of the Arab American University of Jenin was nearly closed due to the difficulties in attracting native-speaking teachers. These difficulties are due to the current practices of Israeli immigration which turns employment in West Bank universities into a gamble.

Difficulties faced by the students from different areas:

1. Students from the Palestinian territory occupied in 1948: Only few join the university. Those who do join face tremendous difficulties in visiting their families during in the weekends, many don’t visit their families for many months.

Due to the relative calmness of the situation in recent times the number of students from these areas has increased, currently there are 150 enrolled students. This is still a very low number considering:

a. AAUJ fees are lower than University fees in Israel and neighbouring Arab countries.
b. It’s easier to get acceptance for desired courses than in Israel.
c. AAUJ is closer to these areas than any of the universities in Israel.
d. AAUJ has an excellent academic level. Graduates from the dental department and the medical sciences department pass through the Israeli heath ministry examinations without any notable difficulties.

2. Students from the Gaza strip

During the university’s early days, a number of Gazan students were enrolled at the university, but due to the increased separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the ban on students from Gaza being allowed to study in the West Bank without a permit in 2004, the university now has no students from Gaza.

Out of 8 enrolled students from The Gaza Strip in the year 2000 only 3 were able to attend the University.  One of them was later prevented from entering the West Bank on the way back from a family visit in Kuwait and therefore was unable to complete her education at AAUJ. The two others were successful in staying in the West Bank and finishing their studies but have been stuck in the West Bank since their arrival in 2000 and are still unable to travel back to Gaza to see their families.

3. Students from Jerusalem face several problems due to the fact that they are considered to be carrying Israeli I.D. cards which means that while there is closure in the west bank they are legally not allowed to enter it. They are stopped at military check points and subjected to fines and often stopped from passing through. They are also more at risk of being arrested for participating in student activities in the Universities.

4. Students from villages that are behind the Wall
There is a group of students from West Bank villages that are behind the wall (between the apartheid wall and the green line) and the students need special permits (magnetic cards) to pass through permanent check points outside their villages (like barta’a check point). These permits are for short periods and need to be renewed constantly. In cases of closure the students are prevented from passing through. These villages are torah, al-ttram, um al-rehan, barttah.

5. Residents of neighbouring Arab countries (holders of Palestine nationality)
55 students from neighbouring Arab countries were enrolled at the University in 2000.  Only 37 of them able to continue their studies at the university due to the fact that they were West Bank ID holders, and it was impossible for the others to obtain visas for study purposes.

6. Students from neighbouring Arab countries
No Arab students can attend the university as they are not allowed to obtain a visa for studying. AAUJ doesn’t have any students from any other countries and the university doesn’t advertise the university in other countries because of this situation.

Case studies:

1. Between the years 2000 and 2005 the journey between Jenin and the university campus used to take around three hours despite the small distance (17km). Two main roads to the university were closed by the IOF, and the alternative agricultural roads were much longer in distance, mostly not paved and often had flying checkpoints.

Many of the staff who lived outside Jenin were forced to leave the university because of the difficulties in reaching it. Some staff from outside Jenin were forced to more there to stay in temporary accommodation, which meant that they were not able to see their families for many months and had to choose between their families and their work at the University. For example Dr. Mahmoud Hadad who used to be the Head of the Business Faculty, decided to leave his work at the university to move back with his family in Ramallah.

2. On the 23rd of March 2008 the university was raided by a large number of Israeli soldiers in addition to a heavy presence of the air force over the University. The Israel occupation forces closed the university and stopped people from entering or leaving the university campus. The operation started at 3pm, an hour before the end of working hours and many staff and students were trapped in the University campus until 10pm. The Israeli occupation forces claimed to be searching for wanted people on campus.

3. In April 2002 Jenin refugee camp was invaded and all the staff who live in Jenin couldn’t come into work for a full month.

4. The personal experiences of Inshirah Jaber, Director of Student Services: Inshirah started work at the university on the 3rd of September 2000. Inshirah is married with three children. She is responsible for the halls of residence for female students.

On the day the university was opened on 28th of September 2000 many students didn’t go home with their families because they feared they wouldn’t be able to come back to start their studies towards the start of October. The halls were not completely ready at that time which meant that she had to stay at work for 55 hours almost continuously. She also had to bring her children into work.

Inshirah on several occasions had to return home from work under curfew from the Israeli occupation forces and clashes with the IOF. In 2003 Ishtirah’s daughter fell and broke her leg on campus.  She was taken to hospital by an ambulance.  Ishtirah went on board the same ambulance but at the entrance of Jenin the Israeli occupation forces prevented Ishtirah from accompanying her daughter for the rest of the journey to the hospital. Ishtirah was able to reach the hospital 2 hours later despite the fact that the distance between the hospital and the entrance of the city is only 3km.

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