By Karol Ibarra
On Dec. 1, A student from Bethlehem University in Israel shared her story with the Saint Mary’s University community about the struggle she had to overcome in order to finish her degree, with aim to inspire and raise awareness about the current situation in Israel and Palestine.
The speaker, Berlanty Azza, is a young Palestinian woman from the Gaza strip, who had been attending Bethlehem University in the West Bank. In October 2009, just two months away from finishing her bachelor’s degree at Bethlehem, Azzam was forcibly transferred to Gaza by the Israeli military. According to Azzam, she was detained and forcibly transferred was because her identification card was from Gaza. This is because, as a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, she is not allowed into Israel, which is where Bethlehem is located.
“I was scared. They had blindfolded me with my own scarf,” said Azzam.
According to Azzam, the reason she was allowed to travel to Bethlehem for the first three and a half years was because she had made an arrangement between the Orthodox Church and Israeli military. “It was so hard to get permission to go and study. [The reason] I got permission was because I went through the [Catholic] Orthodox Church,” said Azzam. One day, however, while crossing through a checkpoint, the Israeli military expelled her back to Gaza claiming that that she was illegally staying in the West Bank.
The day after Azzam’s forcible removal to Gaza, Gisha—a non-profit organization whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents—filed a petition to the Israeli High Court protesting her expulsion from the West Bank.
According to Azzam, after two hearings, the High Court upheld the position of the Israeli state and ruled not to allow Azzam to return to Bethlehem University to complete her studies. “It is forbidden for me to go to Bethlehem,” said Azzam.
Although she was unable to go back to Bethlehem, Azzam said she was able to continue her studies with her former university professors via email and telephone calls. She completed her studies long-distance and received her bachelor’s degree from Bethlehem University in Gaza on Jan. 10, 2010.
Azzam also spoke about three students from Gaza who have been accepted to Bethlehem University, but are unable to go because they are not allowed to be in the West Bank. “What I am asking here is like you helped me, help these three students: send letters to congress,” said Azzam.
For those interested in sending letters, send them to members of congress or the secretary of state by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or U.S. Embassy. The main addresses is U.S Department of State 2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520.