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R2E Student Volunteer, Birzeit University , 18 December 2008
Due to the fact that the state of Israel has control over the borders and population register of the occupied Palestinian Territories, it also has de facto control over which students and teachers can access Birzeit University. After the Oslo accords a number of Palestinians who were in exile outside of the country travelled back to Palestine in order to settle back into their homes and start a life in their own future state. Upon their return, many were surprised to find that they were denied Palestinian IDs by Israel, and were therefore forced to either leave or stay in their own homes illegally.
I am a student at Birzeit University and daily I face the possibility of 2 options given to me by the Israeli military occupation – a prison sentence or a 10,0000 shekel fine plus 1 shekel for every day I have ‘overstayed’ OR deportation where my children would also be permanently denied entry to the oPt.
My family returned to Palestine in 1993 with the hopes of starting a life in Palestine, to be close to family and learn the language and the culture of Palestine. We are from Jerusalem. Within the next year the Israeli government withdrew my father’s Palestinian ID, preventing us from renewing our visas on our USA passports and a chance of gaining the Palestinian ID.
I did not feel the effect of this until I was much older. At the age of 16, right after the beginning of the second uprising, there was an increase of checkpoints which prevented my movement between Ramallah and Jerusalem. This made movement very difficult and also dangerous – I was always at risk of being caught and deported.
When I started my senior year (12th grade) in school, I needed to take my SAT exams to get into college, but the only place that offers the exams are in Ramallah. In order to take the exams I had to cross Qalandia checkpoint to get back home.
While crossing the checkpoint, I often had to wait for long hours, and sometimes I was harassed or detained or forced to return back to Ramallah. I later learned of a few ways in which I could avoid Qalandia checkpoint, but these other ways were long and dangerous roads that sometimes had random checkpoints where I usually faced a similar kind of treatment by the Israeli soldiers. The journey between Qalandia and my house normally takes 10 minutes, but now with all the risky alternative routes, it took me about 2 hours on average.
When I started at Birzeit University, in order to avoid crossing checkpoints, I was forced to live in a dorm near the university to avoid all this harassment and fear and only saw my family every few weeks. When I was able to go home to visit my family the journey which normally only took 30 minutes would take at least 2 hours. And as the Israeli army randomly raids students’ dorms in Birzeit, I once again faced the constant fear of being deported or arrested.
About 3 years ago, the apartheid wall was finished in the area between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and there was a direct route from my home to the university, so I decided to move back to my family’s house. Even though the Israeli government promised to leave this route open for travel, there was a checkpoint placed on the only road going in and out of my area. Once again, to continue my studies in the university I had to move to a dorm in Birzeit village. This time I am forbidden from seeing my family for months at a time, and when I decide to go home to visit, I have to pass through the checkpoint and hope to get through without any problems.
As a student this put stress on my life and also prevented me from participating in a number of student activities as I can’t travel freely. I am also left alone in Birzeit village during special feasts and small breaks as all my friends go back to their homes.
My story is a sad one but I am not the only person who faces these circumstances as there are 100s of students that are living in the same situation and worse at Birzeit University.