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Appeal, Birzeit University, 8 September 2001
OPEN THE ROAD TO PEACE THROUGH CONCRETE ACTION TO PROTECT THE CIVILIAN POPULATION AND CIVIL LIFE IN PALESTINE
On 15 September, more than 5000 students and over 700 faculty and staff will commence a new academic year at Birzeit University – and will face a hard, humiliating and often dangerous journey by foot through two Israeli checkpoints as they attempt to reach their campus, classes, offices and laboratories.
Since March 2001, students and teachers alike have borne the hardship of the closure of the Ramallah-Birzeit road, the main and, in these times, only vital access to the University. Over the summer, the situation has worsened and harassment and hardship have been “institutionalized” both for the Birzeit University community and for the residents of the 35 rural villages that use this road as their lifeline into Ramallah’s services, jobs and supplies.
But it is not only the burdens and dangers suffered by individual students and teachers, nor even the harm done to one of Palestine’s leading educational institutions that leads Birzeit University to issue this urgent appeal. These burdens are indeed heavy, as we witness our students and teachers climbing over trenches, seeking shelter from Israeli army fire, sound-bombs or tear gas, or held and humiliated and sometimes detained. The damage to academic life, community service programs, research and the very future development of the University are very real. However, it is the stark fact that these negative events are part of a new “normality” of Israeli closure and siege against the Palestinian civilian population, all contrary to international law, that most concerns us – and demands real and effective action from the international community. No peace can be built on the destruction and ruin of another people, their civil life, development, society and livelihoods.
The Birzeit community has acted, in peace, unity and dignity, against the closure and for the right to education, freedom of movement and respect for persons. Over the past few months, peaceful demonstrations, organized by the University and its friends, resulted in the filling in of the trenches that the Israeli military bulldozers had gouged out of the road at the beginning of March. However, subsequent peaceful protests against the ongoing checkpoint closure – including delivering notice to the soldiers on guard that their actions contravened international law — have not had long-term results.
The closure of the Birzeit road belies the security justification that is utilized by Israel for most of its illegal actions in occupied Palestinian territory. The Ramallah-Birzeit road passes nowhere near an Israeli town or settlement. Instead, the checkpoints represent a 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.
As such, 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 human rights provisions in international time. 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.
Please call the nearest Israeli Embassy in your area and send your protests to the Israeli Government
Mr. Terje Rod Larsen
Personal Representative of the Secretary General
to the United Nations in Palestine
Tel: + 972 8 282 2914
Fax: + 972 8 282 0966
Mr. Romano Prodi
President, European Union
Mr. Koichiro Matsuura
Director General, UNESCO
7 Place de Fontenoy 75352
Fax: + 33 1 45 6 7 16 90