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Alex Nilsson , R2E Campaign, An-Najah National University , 30 June 2008
The first week of June saw students and faculty of An-Najah University celebrate their achievements and forget about the infringement of their personal and professional freedoms as a result of the Israeli military occupation. The week of celebrations was in honour of over 2,250 students who graduated this year. Amongst them was the first cohort of 27 students to receive their Bachelor degrees from the Faculty of Nursing.
|Sajed, a recent graduate from the Faculty of Nursing at An-Najah|
“If travelling was easier and there were no checkpoints, I would definitely have lived in Jenin these last 4 years”, says Sajed.
Like his friend Wisam, a 3rd year student who moved from Hebron to Nablus to study nursing, Sajed enjoyed living in Nablus, but he wished he could have seen his family more often. The checkpoints deterred him from seeing them as much as he wanted.
The closure system in the West Bank has made travelling from one city to another difficult and more costly for all Palestinians, including the more than 121,000 students attending the six universities in the West Bank. The complex system of physical obstacles combined with restricted access to Palestinian ID holders has geographically divided the West Bank into 6 separated areas: north, centre, south, Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea, the areas trapped between the Green Line and the Separation Wall, known as the Seam Zone, and East Jerusalem. Each of these chunks is further fragmented into ‘sub-areas’ and movement between them is controlled by Israeli military .
Most An-Najah students from outside Nablus have to pass through one or more checkpoints every day or every week to get to and from the University. Nablus is surrounded by 7 permanently manned checkpoints just outside the city, making it one of the areas most disrupted by the closure. Although conditions and delays vary from checkpoint to checkpoint, the two main ones, Beit Iba and Huwwarra, has normally very long waiting time and delays caused by the checking of travellers . UN OCHA reports that from September 2007 to May 2008, delays could be up to 90 minutes at checkpoints around Nablus at rush-hour. A study of 28 students by the Right to Education Campaign found that men wait twice as long as women at checkpoints for up to 90 minutes.
|Huwwara checkpoint, one of the 7 manned checkpoints surrounding Nablus|
“Travelling every day would be too difficult. It would mean wasting a lot of time, and would leave me with little time to study, do practical training, work or socialise”, explains Sajed.
Young men, like Sajed and Wisam, are also particularly vulnerable to harsh movement prohibitions. In February this year, males between 16-35 years of age from Jenin, Tubas, Nablus and Tulkarm were prohibited to travel through checkpoints southwards and in and out of Nablus for 25 days.
The closure system appears to be arbitrary because there are no formal rules or written orders available to Palestinians and travel in the West Bank is unpredictable. The permit regulations are changed without warning, certain age groups are suddenly prohibited from travelling, a road is closed – these are all common in a system which, according to B’Tselem, is characterised by its ‘arbitrariness, vagueness and uncertainty’.
Despite commitments by Israeli authorities of easing the movement restrictions on Palestinians, monitoring agencies report that closure is tightening and that one of the characteristics of the regime are these false promises . According to UN OCHA, there has been a net increase in obstacles from 566 to 607 in the last month, and that the removal of 44 checkpoints in the West Bank, which received some media coverage, has had little effect. Instead, the right to freedom of movement continues to be breached and travel expenses continue to remain high due to closure.
Obtaining a degree in nursing is something Sajed always dreamed of. His qualification means he can further his professional training in Palestine or overseas. He wants to take part in developing his country and give something back to the community. His plan is to study overseas and then return to work in Palestine in the future, echoing the wish from the UniversityÂ’s President, Professor Rami Hamdallah, that An-Najah graduates represent the Palestinian people positively and guide the country through turbulent times.
As Sajed and his fellow students celebrated their achievements in the evening sun in Nablus, they found it hard to forget the many young Palestinians who do not study because of their vulnerability when negotiating the checkpoints and obstacles on their way to university.
International human rights law requires Israel to respect the right of residents of the Occupied Territories to move about freely in the occupied territory. This right is recognized in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
UDHR Article 13
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also recognizes the right to the freedom of movement:
ICCPR Article 12
1. Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.
2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.
3. The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.
4. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.
Furthermore, international humanitarian law requires Israel, in its capacity as the occupier, to ensure the safety and well-being of the local residents, and to maintain, to the extent possible, normal living conditions.
Freedom of movement is important because it is a prerequisite to the exercise of other rights, such as those set forth in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among these are the right to work (Article 6), the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11), the right to health (Article 12), the right to education (Article 13), and the right to protection of family life (Article 10).
Israel is entitled to protect itself by employing various measures, including the imposition of restrictions on movement. However, the breadth and duration of the restrictions it has imposed and the resulting grave harm that this policy has caused to the local population in all aspects of life constitute a flagrant breach of its legal obligations.
Furthermore, Israel’s policy is blatant discrimination based on national origin since these restrictions apply only to Palestinians. Jewish residents are permitted to enter and leave settlements without restriction. The IDF has even explicitly admitted that the restrictions of movement imposed on Palestinians are intended to ensure the free movement of Jews in the Occupied Territories. Thus, Israel’s policy violates the right to equality that is expressed in human rights conventions of which Israel is a party.