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Appeal, Birzeit University, 1 October 2001
STOP THE HARASSMENT OF STUDENTS, FACULTY AND STAFF: ALLOW THE RESIDENTS OF 35 VILLAGES UNDER SIEGE TO RESUME THEIR EDUCATION AND WORK
On September 28th, 2001, the Israeli Authorities stated that they would ease travel restrictions on the Palestinian population within the West Bank and Gaza following the signing of a cease-fire agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government.
The gulf between words and actions remains apparent for the more than 5,000 students, 700 staff, and 65,000 villagers (in 35 villages in the area) whose livelihoods and education continue to be severely curtailed by the Israeli checkpoints blocking access along the only route remaining between the Birzeit area and Ramallah.
Since March 2001, all residents of the area as well as students and staff at Birzeit University have been victim to the whims of the Israeli military forces and their soldiers positioned at these checkpoints. Sometimes this, the only access road, has been completely barred to pedestrians, at others only commercial vehicles are allowed to pass through.
Over the summer the situation has hardened, and access to the University (or the return home) can only be accomplished through the long and harrowing walk through the checkpoints– where students and staff are often verbally and physically abused by the soldiers. At various times, tear gas, sound bombs and even live fire have been lobbed at students and staff alike — in one case, a University staff member after a heated discussion with a soldier subsequently had her leg broken when he threw a sound bomb near her.
The checkpoints pose a dual threat; on the one hand they fundamentally impede the ability of students to continue their education and staff and residents to make their livelihoods or meet their work responsibilities. On the other, they pose a constant threat to our physical safety and psychological well-being. The damage to academic life, community service programs, research and the very future development of the University are very real.
Equipment and book shipments cannot be brought to the campus. Teaching staff and students lose hours of valuable educational time crossing the checkpoints. The ability to use the libraries and labs after classes, as well as enrichment activities are all no longer possible as it is unsafe to cross the checkpoints after dark. Moreover, almost 20% of the 2000-2001 student body have missed an entire academic year due to being under siege in areas such as the Gaza Strip and North and South West Bank.
The Birzeit community has over the past few months, held a number of peaceful demonstrations, organized by the University and its friends. In March this resulted in the filling in of the trenches that the Israeli military bulldozers had gouged out of the road. However, subsequent peaceful protests against the ongoing checkpoint closure – including delivering notice to the soldiers that their actions contravened international law — have had no impact.
Instead, the checkpoints have hardened into a part of the systematic and official policy of intimidation that is aimed at institutionalizing the suffering of Palestinian civilians in an attempt to break their wills and lay waste to their society and nation. We call on the international community to defend human rights by taking immediate action against this closure, which clearly violates the Fourth Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights provisions.
Indeed, it is urgent and necessary that the High Contracting Parties to the Convention convene and exercise their responsibilities under international law. But alongside these comprehensive initiatives, we urge the international community to act whenever the interests of peace and security are violated and take concrete measures to ensure these interests.
We believe an open road to Birzeit University is a step forward to a just and equitable peace. Your support is urgently needed.
Please call the nearest Israeli Embassy in your area and send your protests to the Israeli Government.