BIRZEIT UNIVERSITY UNDER SIEGE
Over the last ten days, the town of Birzeit - as well as most towns and villages in Palestine - has been under siege by the Israeli Occupation Forces. This came as a result of the recent violent attacks by a Palestinian militant group in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.
Although the attacks were condemned officially by the Palestinian National Authority and measures were taken by this Authority to curb the actions of the militants, yet Israel decided to impose collective punishments against the Palestinians. This is a repeat of the methods used by the Israelis since the start of occupation in 1967. These collective punishments are not only illegal but are contrary to the spirit of the peace process that the Palestinians and the Israelis have been engaged in recently.
Birzeit University has suffered due to the siege. Almost ninety percent of its students, faculty and staff come from areas outside Birzeit. More than ten days have been lost with no classes being held. Most administrative staff have not been able to come. The cost to the University community is quite large and if the situation remains longer, then the semester might be lost. Alternatively, the University might lose the summer session. There is also the possibility of canceling the special summer programs for the international students.
Students from Gaza area have been "picked" up by the military authorities and returned to Gaza. Again an illegal action has been taken against them. These students - more than 200 - are definitely going to lose their present semester and their enrollment at Birzeit. Some of these students are in the their final semester before graduation and since transfer to other Universities need at least a year of residency, then these students will have to spend at least one more semester to complete their studies.
Other general University activities have also been affected: Construction of the Azeez Shaheen Clinic and the Law Center have halted (hopefully temporarily) with financial loss to both the contractor and the University. A program in cooperation with the Finnish Association of Journalists for the training of local journalists has been canceled and the Finnish team that came last week to do the training had to leave. A workshop on water management - in cooperation with the German Government was also canceled, and finally a conference on music in Palestine, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Palestinian Ministry of Culture had to be canceled.
To add further strain to the University community, the University received yesterday a bomb threat by phone from a man who spoke with an American accent. He said that he belonged to a Jewish organization and that a bomb was planted on the campus to explode within 20 minutes (at 2 p.m.). The University took general cautionary measures - but fortunately the phone call turned out to be a hoax.
The University is disturbed that the present actions of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinian population remains unchallenged. Although one condemns terror - irrespective of its motives - the solution of this phenomenon should lie in speeding the process of peace so that the Palestinians could attain their legitimate political and human rights. Only then will the roots of terror and violence be eradicated. At no time, should there be collective punishments against the Palestinians. The siege on Birzeit and other towns and villages should be urgently and promptly lifted.