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Kevin ClarkeDecember 10, 2009

A Gaza-born resident of the West Bank and Bethlehem University student will not be allowed to complete her college education with just two-months to go before her graduation after the Israeli High Court of Justice accepted the Israeli Defense Forces’ decision to expel the young woman in October. Berlanty Azzam, an Orthodox Christian, was swept up at an IDF checkpoint and her education and future dismissed as capriciously as a hundred other “security” decisions that occur in humiliating confrontations between IDF and Palestinian citizens of the West Bank. More are likely as the Israel separation wall winds its erratic 436-mile course throughout the West Bank and within the lives of average Palestinians who must contend with it.

This petty gesture can only be perceived as part of an ongoing campaign of collective punishment and everyday humiliation, but the strategic goal of tactics like the Azzam deportation remain difficult to discern. No one suggests that this young Business Administration student is a security threat. In fact she is just the kind of well-educated, liberal-minded new generation of Palestinian that one would presume Israeli citizens would have an interest in encouraging in every way. It would have been a small, perhaps meaningful gesture of humanity to allow her to get on with her life, preferably not trapped in the Gaza Strip.

Besides, no one can say with true authority what applicable laws she violated by daring to visit two cities within her own quasi-state. Israeli authorities acknowledge the transit permit she received to travel to the West Bank in 2005 was the only kind then allowed, and here’s where the case goes full Kafka: Because no other kind was available in 2005, she was ineligible to apply for a different permit in the ensuing years. Azzam herself tried repeatedly to update her address to the satisfaction of what passes for the rule of law under the Israeli occupation, but Israel wouldn't approve her attempt to register her new West Bank address since it routinely declines to approve address registrations handed over to it by the Palestinian Authority. Azzam was caught in a perfect bureaucratic and ideological trap.

The IDF’s claim of jurisdiction over her citizenship or right of movement is, at any rate, dubious. According to the Oslo accord, the Palestinian Authority has the power to change its' citizen's addresses in their identity cards and is only required to notify the Israel authorities, who in turn apparently simply refuse to recognize PA registrations.

Azzam’s plight is shared by 25,000 other Gazans who live in the West Bank under constant threat of deportation from their own country. Her saga offers a tiny view of the ceaseless frustration and degradation that is life as a Palestinian within the IDF-secured West Bank. Conditions in the open air internment city of Gaza are, of course, far worse. Now, like thousands of others in Gaza, Azzam wait and molders, plotting a legal or extralegal escape or emigration from the strip. Many hopeless people are plotting worse as conditions there find new lows.

According to the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, which represented Azzam before the High Court: “Since 2000, Israel  has enforced a sweeping ban preventing young Palestinians from Gaza from  studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. A 2007 High  Court decision determined that students from Gaza wishing to study in the West  Bank should be allowed to do so “in cases that would have positive  humanitarian implications”. However . . .  since  this judgment was handed down in 2007, Israel has not issued a single entry  permit for the purpose of traveling to study in the West Bank to a student from Gaza.”

It is difficult to see how this kind of treatment leads anywhere approaching a peaceful resolution of the festering animus between the Israeli and Palestinian people. And perhaps, sadly, that is just as intended.

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