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Col. Yaer Lutstein
Bet El Civil Administration
Dear Col. Lutstein:
At 2:00 a.m. on 18 November 2004, Israeli occupying forces forcibly entered a student apartment in Birzeit village, arresting four Birzeit University students, Bashar Abu Shahala, Walid Muhanna, Bashar Abu Salim, and Mohammad Matar. The students were held over a three-day period, during which they were interrogated and humiliated. They were then forcibly transferred to the Gaza Strip. No charges have been made against them.
In response to pressure from the international community, Israeli military officials stated that they will allow the students to resume their studies at the University on the condition that they sign a document agreeing to permanently return to the Gaza Strip upon graduation. Israel’s actions have not only violated these students’ rights to education and to freedom of movement, but they also disregard the integrity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a single occupied territory as recognised both by international law and established in the Oslo Accords. Because they are residents of the same territory, and are entitled to the freedom to choose their residence therein, Palestinians from Gaza have the right to work, study, and live in the West Bank, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, these Birzeit students are not the only Palestinian students negatively affected by Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, between 28 September 2000 and 25 September 2004, 516 school and 198 university students have been killed, along with 28 teachers. Additionally, some 1,125 schools have been closed during sieges and curfews (nine are still closed, three of which have been turned into Israeli military bases), and shelling has damaged 259 others. Israeli-imposed movement restrictions have also drastically affected Palestinian students’ ability to access schools. To date, the Annexation Wall alone has hindered 15,740 students from reaching their classrooms.
These Israeli actions are contrary to the right of all to education, as upheld in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a State Party, as well as in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further, the right to education is recognised under customary international law.
Al-Haq objects to the forcible transfer of the four students from Gaza, which is prohibited by Article 49 (1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which describes forced transfer as involuntarily and unlawfully moving protected persons from where they reside to another locale. Moreover, the organization believes that the restriction of these students’ movement, and the denial of their right to education, are disproportionate and cannot be defended under the guise of military necessity. Al-Haq demands that the students be allowed to return to their studies without imposing any restrictions on their right to elect residency anywhere within the OPT, and calls upon Israel to immediately cease all actions that infringe on Palestinians’ right to education.
Al Haq: Defending human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1979 www.alhaq.org