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Maher, Birzeit University, 15 April 2002
Maher, 22 years old, lives in Ramallah and is a student majoring in Sociology at Birzeit University. He had hoped to graduate in June 2002 — but with the closure on the university he has no idea when he will be able to return to classes and finish the semester.
Even when the University was not completely closed, and although he lives not far away in Ramallah — the past 20 months of his academic life have been a nightmare. For instance, he had professors who live in Jerusalem who could barely reach the university due to having to cross so many checkpoints on the way. Often they arrived late and exhausted having spent more than three hours on the way. Maher’s early morning classes were constantly in jeopardy.
Since the Israeli invasion of Ramallah in late March 2002, Maher says he avoids crossing the checkpoint in the way to Bir Zeit as much as possible. Once, he was held at the checkpoint by the soldiers for more than three hours. The only reason seemed to be because he’s tall and looks strong making him a favored target by soldiers for a stronger humiliation.
Another time he was accompanying a colleague of his when she was stopped by the soldiers, who searched her bag and found some sanitary towels. One of the soldiers took them out and started waving them around in front of the other soldiers and pedestrians. His friend was so embarrassed she began to cry. Maher felt so humiliated, and since then he hates going to the university.
Another of Maher’s colleagues, a best friend is from Gaza. She used to live in the dorms in Birzeit village but then decided that it would be safer to move to Ramallah, since Birzeit students are a special target when the army goes into the village. Once in Ramallah, however, the apartment she lives in was twice invaded by soldiers. One of her roommates was arrested because she was carrying a Gaza identity card.
Maher’s friend was lucky — she wasn’t asked for her i.d. His friend knows that if she goes to Gaza she will never be able to return and finish her education. The last time she returned to campus after visiting her family in Gaza she had to go first to Egypt, then fly to Jordan and cross the bridge back into the West Bank even though Gaza is only a two hour drive from Ramallah. There are many other Gaza students at Birzeit in the same situation — who have to choose between finishing their education and seeing their families. Maher’s friend considers herself lucky — she hasn’t seen her family for two years while for others its been four.
Maher says he feels he has lost all control over his life and that all avenues forward are blocked. He cannot finish his studies, he cannot work and cannot see any possible future. He says he at least feels lucky that so far he has not been jailed, shot or injured as many of his friends have.
All of this has left him depressed and feeling paralyzed. When his parents complain that he should get up and “do something” , Maher’s reply is “What can I do? there is nothing to do here, no work, no travel, no education, only a poor library in town. Besides, why the hurry? If I ever get to graduate, I will still have nothing to do, nowhere to work, and won’t be able to travel.”