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The attractive and well-equipped campus of Birzeit University lies eight kilometers outside of Ramallah along a pastoral country road that winds its way through the villages of Surda and Abu Qash. It is the only Palestinian institution of higher education that lies outside of “Area A” (the main urban centers under full Palestinian Authority control within the terms of the Oslo Accords).
As such, while students at all Palestinian universities face the daunting challenge of getting from their place of residence to their university due to the ever-expanding network of sieges and closures imposed by the Israeli occupation forces, between 2001-2003 Birzeit students, faculty and staff were faced with a critical extra challenge. Birzeit has its very own checkpoint that cuts it off completely from the main urban center which is its lifeblood: Ramallah.
A majority of students, faculty and staff live in Ramallah and its environs. Moreover, Ramallah is the transport hub for those arriving from other areas and going on to Birzeit. It is also the service and commercial area — all goods and services destined for the University and the surrounding 33 villages either originate or have to pass through the city. Between 2001-2003, the growing strangulation of normal life by this one checkpoint between Ramallah and Birzeit became testimony to the ever-widening means and systems of oppression that Israel has developed to suppress an entire people. The checkpoint’s role and impact developed incrementally; initially representing a worrying but mild irritant to becoming a major repressive force in the lives of the 50,000 villagers and more than 6,000 students, faculty and staff who have to contend with it.
The checkpoint is sited at the Ramallah end of the road — less than one kilometer beyond the borders of the town on the main artery to Birzeit and the thirty villages in the area. Since June 2001 it has been the only remaining road through which the entire Birzeit area can reach Ramallah since all other routes have been systematically closed off by the army. After the checkpoint became closed to all vehicle traffic, public transport taxis set up stands on both sides of the checkpoint so that commuters could pick up their journey after walking through.
The Birzeit-Surda Chronology is an overview of the evolving nature of the roadblock(popularly referred to as the Surda Roadblock after a nearby village) from its birth in March 2001 until December 2003 when it was dismantled and the road to Birzeit University was reopened. The road to Birzeit University is, however, still subject to periodic and arbitrary closure by Israeli Army jeeps and solidiers.