UNIVERSITY CLOSED, STUDENTS TARGETED: BIRZEIT CALLS FOR A RESUMPTION OF CLASSES

Birzeit University was today closed for the second day as the result of an Israeli sealing of the Ramallah/Al-Bireh district yesterday, preventing the entire university community of 5,000 from reaching the campus. This is the second time in the last 4 weeks that the University has been paralysed by Israeli closure policy.

Yesterday's closure was part of the Israeli government's response to 4 fatal suicide attacks in Israeli areas during the last 10 days. Israeli President Weizmann commented that, "To find a needle in a haystack, sometimes you have to burn the haystack." The closure, which has separated Palestinian villages and towns, even where there is no clear security risk to Israelis, has been clearly stated to be punitive. Israeli government Channel 1 IBA English news stated last night that "the government is saying to the Palestinian people: choose between the peace process and Hamas."

The closure is being carefully controlled and strictly enforced. Palestinian police warned one Birzeit employee this morning that Israeli soldiers would shoot anyone who tried to take alternate routes around the checkpoints. Students from other areas of the West Bank remain trapped in the Ramallah-Birzeit area. New closures of roads with concrete blocks have been observed on the way towards Jerusalem. Members of the University Council living in Birzeit village were unable to attend a meeting in Ramallah owing to the closure.

During the closure, various measures have been carried out by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities against the Palestinian academic community. At around 6.00pm last night, students reported that IDF soldiers entered the village of Birzeit to raid the apartments of Gazan students. The students fled in fear across the mountains to Ramallah, their only 'crime' to be without a valid permit since the closure. Palestinian police have since housed many of the Gazan students in the buildings of the former Israeli prison in Ramallah. The University lawyer was refused passage between Ramallah and Birzeit village by Israeli soldiers manning the main checkpoint, when he was attempting to verify reports of arrests of Gazan students. University administration members, en route to the University , were pushed and shoved by Israeli soldiers at the same checkpoint. Today in Gaza, the Islamic University reported a violent raid by Palestinian Police in response to Israeli calls on the PNA to crack down on radical Islamic groups. Additionally, radio reports stated today that both universities in Hebron were subjected to direct closure by the Israeli authorities.

Birzeit University notes that collective punishment is illegal under international law, including Article 33 of The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and Article 50 of The Hague Regulations of 1907. Birzeit protests that, as stated in the Hague Regulations, an entire population is being punished for "the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible." In particular, the targeting of Palestinian educational institutions and their students by both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities cannot serve but to increase tensions in the region.

Birzeit University calls to the Israeli government to permit a resumption of classes by a lifting of the closure around Palestinian areas. Birzeit calls on members of the international community to support this call. Interventions can be made by fax to Israeli representatives in your country or to the West Bank Military Commander on +972-2-997-7326, or by e-mail to the Foreign Ministry at :

ask@israel-info.gov.il

Please forward copies to Birzeit University.