Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Its Students Must Be Set
By Stuart Littlewood
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 12, 2011
learn... free to train… free to excel... free to plan… free to travel...
free to trade... free to govern…And free at last from Israel’s reign of
Stuart Littlewood details
Israel’s determined effort to prevent the creation of educated Palestinian
cadres through the systematic repression, harassment and ill-treatment of
Palestinian students and the disruption of their education.
last thing Israel wants is masses of bright and clever young Palestinians
next door in the shredded remains of the occupied territories. But that's
exactly what Palestinian youngsters are – bright and clever, given half a
chance. So they need repressing. They need humiliating constantly. They need
to be discouraged. They need to have their education disrupted big-time, so
that they become a broken, dispirited, docile mass without ambition, utterly
dependent on a few crumbs of comfort and easy to control.
Israelis make spiteful war on students especially, as well as women and
report from Bethlehem University about the brutal attacks by Israeli
squatters, in one case under the indulgent eye of Israeli soldiers, on a
professor and a student reminds me that I have written on three earlier
occasions about intimidation and obstruction by the Israeli authorities. At
this moment in the long struggle for decency and freedom it is worth
recalling these incidents, which vividly illustrate why Palestinian
independence is so vitally important.
To get to Bethlehem University,
or any other, many students have to run the gauntlet of Israeli checkpoints.
"Sometimes they take our ID cards and they spend ages writing down all the
details, just to make us late," said one. Students are often made to remove
shoes, belt and bags. "It's like an airport. Many times we are kept waiting
outside for up to an hour, rain or shine, they don't care." The soldiers
attempt to forcibly remove students’ clothes or they swear and shout sexual
slurs at female students.
Some tell how they are sexually harassed
and spend the rest of the day worrying what the Israelis will do to them on
their way home.
The daily abuse undermines student motivation and
concentration. Many other obstacles are put in their way by the occupation.
Here are just three cases that are representative of thousands of others.
They will, I think, make you angry – spitting-blood furious, in fact.
Merna – “turning the tables on adversity”
Merna was an honours student in her final year majoring in English.
Israeli soldiers frequently rampaged through her Bethlehem refugee camp in
the middle of the night, ransacking homes and arbitrarily arresting
residents. They took away her family one by one. First her 14-year-old
cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while she sat
outside her family home during a curfew.
“Israeli military law treats Palestinians as adults as
soon as they reach 16, a flagrant violation of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Israeli
youngsters are regarded as children until 18.”
Next the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22-year-old artist, and
imprisoned him for four years. Then they came back for Merna's 18-year-old
brother. Not content with that, the military came again, this time to take
her youngest brother – the “baby” of the family – just 16. These were the
circumstances under which Merna had to study.
"As he was being taken away, he told us to take care of ourselves,” said
Merna, her eyes brimming with tears. "He’s my little brother! He is the one
who needs taking care of. What is he doing in an awful prison cell and how
are his spirits?"
Israeli military law treats Palestinians as adults as soon as they reach
16, a flagrant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of
the Child. Israeli youngsters are regarded as children until 18.
Palestinians are dealt with by Israeli military courts, even when it's a
civil matter. These courts ignore international laws and conventions, so
there's no legal protection for individuals under Israeli military
As detention is based on secret information, which
neither the detainee nor his lawyer is allowed to see, it is impossible to
mount a proper defence. Besides, the security service always finds a bogus
excuse to keep detainees locked up "in the greater interest of the security
of Israel". Although detainees have the right to review and appeal, they are
unable to challenge the evidence and check facts as all information
presented to the court is classified.
Faced with this great mental
stress, Merna nevertheless determined to carry on with her studies. The
“most moral army in the world”, as the Israelis call their uniformed thugs,
may have robbed her brothers of an education, but she would still fight for
hers. Sleepless and tearful, Merna went to university next day as usual.
A fellow student recalls than when chatting to Merna online in the
evenings, she often had to leave the computer because the military had
barged into her home. But even if she'd been up all night while Israeli
soldiers trashed her house and questioned her family, she always came to
school the next day.
"Coming to school is a way of getting away from
what is happening in the refugee camp," says Merna. "It's like an oasis here
for me." But her thoughts are never far from her cousin and brothers. "I
only wish they were allowed this opportunity."
She became a senior
member of the Bethlehem University Student Ambassadors
Programme and an
example to fellow classmates. She hopes to pursue postgraduate studies
abroad and return to the university to give back to the community some of
the support it has offered her.
Young minds like Merna's must
continue to persevere against the odds. Though greatly distracted by the
cruel fate of her close family, the ordeal forged a steely resolve. The
purposeful way she lived her university life, say the brothers, gave her
added strength and confidence. Merna managed to turn the tables on
adversity. Her loss was actually her gain.
What a remarkable young
Berlanty – deported “for trying to complete her studies at Bethlehem
This Christian girl, a fouth-year Business Administration student, was
originally from Gaza but had lived in the West Bank since 2005 after
receiving a travel permit from the Israeli military to cross from Gaza to
the West Bank. She was snatched by the Israeli military while returning from
a job interview in Ramallah. The 21-year-old, due to graduate in a few
weeks' time, was suddenly deported to Gaza "for trying to complete her
studies at Bethlehem University".
She too was about to be robbed of
her degree at the last minute. The most moral army in the world blindfolded
and handcuffed her, loaded her into a military jeep and drove her from
Bethlehem to Gaza, despite assurances by the Israeli Military Legal
Advisor’s Office that she would not be deported before an attorney from
Gisha, an Israeli
non-governmental organization working to protect Palestinians’ freedom of
movement, had the opportunity to petition the Israeli court for her return
to classes in Bethlehem.
When they’d crossed the border the world’s
most moral army dumped Berlanty in the darkness late at night and told her:
“You are in Gaza.”
"Since 2005, I refrained from visiting my family
in Gaza for fear that I would not be permitted to return to my studies in
the West Bank," she told Gisha on her mobile phone before the soldiers
confiscated it. "Now, just two months before graduation, I was arrested and
taken to Gaza in the middle of the night, with no way to finish my degree."
“If Berlanty, who has committed no crime, could not come
and go as she pleased in her own country – the Holy Land –
what made Israel’s ambassador think that the blood-soaked
Livni, and others like her, should be allowed to come and go
as they please in the UK?”
The Israeli embassy in London, when asked for an explanation, said that
Berlanty held a permit that had expired and she’d been living in the West
Bank illegally. “As you probably know, every Gaza resident who stays in the
West Bank requires a permit, failing to do so is a breach of the law.”
The embassy spokesperson added that if she wished to complete her studies
at Bethlehem she should apply for a permit to the relevant authorities.
However, Bethlehem University told me that 12 students from Gaza had applied
to attend the university and not one had received permission from
the relevant Israeli authorities.
Her appeal, handled by Gisha, was
turned down. It was a classic example of how Israel’s administrative “laws”
are framed to ride rough-shod over citizens’ rights enshrined in
international law. For example, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are
internationally recognized as one integral territory and under international
law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within
a single territory. The state of Israel also has an obligation under the
Oslo Agreements to “respect and preserve without obstacles, normal and
smooth movement of people, vehicles and goods within the West Bank, and
between the West Bank and Gaza Strip”.
While Israel’s embassy here
was issuing its despicable ruling on Berlanty’s fate, the ambassador was
whining about a warrant issued in London for the arrest of ex-Foreign
Livni for alleged war crimes. Livni had overseen the murderous assault
on Gaza the previous December/January, which killed 1,400, including a large
number of women and children, maimed thousands more and left countless
If Berlanty, who has committed no crime, could not
come and go as she pleased in her own country – the Holy Land – what made
Israel’s ambassador think that the blood-soaked Livni, and others like her,
should be allowed to come and go as they please in the UK? But that’s
another shameful story.
Samer – imprisoned, tortured and held in solitary confinement for
engaging in student politics
A few months before he was due to graduate, in 2003, the Israeli military
arrested Samer and threw him in jail – for six long years. Then at 27 he
returned to campus to finish what he started. “I feel like a regular student
again," he said with a wide grin. "I have a university notebook and
textbooks. I can ask and answer questions freely. I can communicate openly
with students, professors and staff. It’s a real life, an authentic life.”
“Many Western leaders began their political careers
making a name for themselves at the Oxford Union and similar
student debating groups or taking part in demos. How would
they have reacted to being clapped in irons for it?"
When imprisoned he was denied access to a lawyer for 55 days then moved
from one Israeli prison to another for more than six years. He was tortured
on numerous occasions, he says, and regularly interrogated eight hours a day
for four to five days, in just a T-shirt, squatting on the cold ground with
his hands tied and an air conditioner blowing on his back. He was held in
solitary confinement for more than a year.
Membership of a student group in Palestine is outlawed under Israeli
military law, and students who engage in campus politics risk arrest by
Israel’s uniformed gangs who barge into Palestinian society and academic
life to abduct them. Many Western leaders began their political careers
making a name for themselves at the Oxford Union and similar student
debating groups or taking part in demos. How would they have reacted to
being clapped in irons for it?
A good many of them are now firm
“Friends of Israel”, although the regime stamps on the sort of student
activities they enjoyed. Members of the Israeli cabinet presumably went to
university. Are we to believe that they never engaged in student politics?
Samer’s experience is similar to that of hundreds of Palestinian
students who find themselves political prisoners. Many are left to rot in
jail indefinitely, denied their basic right to due process, a fair trial and
legal representation. Some wait up to two years to be charged. Others are
charged under Israeli military law, which falls a long way short of the
justice standards required under international law.
Society reckoned that seven Bethlehem University students were at that
time in Israeli prisons for taking part in “student activities”. In Samer’s
case, he was abducted for joining Fatah’s resistance movement after the 2000
Intifada (uprising). It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to
resist an illegal occupier.
But coming back to university after
prison is no easy thing, as Samer discovered. He was suffering the cruel
effects of six years' incarceration and was often tired, depressed, stressed
and jumpy. But he knew that the university was his anchor, the main hope in
his young life.
At first he had problems communicating with other
students, many of whom were younger than him. But the English professor who
taught Samer earlier and received letters and messages from prison, said: “I
see him as a success story in the sense that he hasn’t lost hope. He so much
wanted to continue his education and he came back. Prison was tough for him
but he came through it. He’s doing well, all things considered.”
Another professor remembered him from six years earlier. “There is a
definite measure of maturity in Samer now,” she observed. “He’s proud of
being at Bethlehem University and he knows the value of education. Samer
doesn’t miss any classes. A six-year gap in his education – and six rather
difficult years – is not something that everyone can overcome. But he is
doing it because he wants to improve himself, and his classmates see and
Samer was determined to make the most of this second
chance. Full marks to him for enduring and overcoming the cruelty of the
“The moral test of a country is how it treats the young and the elderly”
UN Human Rights Council report (A/HRC/WG.6/3/ISR/3) of December
2008 highlighted some unpalatable facts:
- DCI/PS (Defence for Children International, Palestine Section)
expressed concern about coercive techniques used by the Israeli
authorities to extract confessions; the provision of typed confessions
to Palestinian child detainees; the use of confessional evidence, most
of which is obtained illegally, in the Israeli military courts in order
to obtain convictions, and the lack of effective mechanisms for
investigating complaints of torture.
- Referring to Israel’s policy of administrative detention, ICJ
(International Commission of Jurists) said that arrests and detentions
are often based on secret evidence to which neither the detainees nor
their counsels have access. The Israeli authorities can repeatedly
extend the initial detention without evidential justification.
- The International Complaints Commission (ICC) noted that there were
about 800 Palestinian administrative detainees at the Israeli detention
Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association reported
that all are detained without any charges or any trial procedures.
Administrative detention is ordered by a military commander and grounded
on “security reasons”. Detainees must be brought before a military judge
within eight days but hearings are not open to the public. Addameer
further reported that administrative detention has regularly been used
against Palestinian children.
- AI (Amnesty International) confirmed that some 800 Palestinians were
held without charge or trial in administrative detention, and although
they have the right to appeal to a military court and ultimately to the
Supreme Court, neither they nor their lawyers have the right to see the
evidence against them.
Mandela Institute reported serious deterioration in all Israeli
detention facilities, including over-crowdedness; forbidding family
visits; arbitrary transfers; violence against prisoners by prison
officials; torture and ill treatment by the Israeli General Security
Services (GSS or Shin Bet), Israeli soldiers and prison guards against
Palestinians; deterioration of health conditions, and deaths in custody.
So there you have it. The evil of Israel's “snatch squads” that prey on
Palestine's students and other young people, and the regime’s cynical
disregard for their wellbeing while in its clutches, are laid bare for
everyone to see.
It is clear that Israel still hasn’t emerged from
the swamp, and probably never will.