Bethlehem: support grows for deported student

Berlanty Azzam

Berlanty Azzam

The case of a young Bethlehem University student deported by the Israelis just two months before she was due to receive her bachelor's degree, has drawn support from churches around the world, and  the US government.

Gaza-born Berlanty Azzam, 21, was arrested at a West Bank checkpoint on 28 October when an Israeli guard noticed Gaza City as the town of residence on her ID. She was blindfolded briefly, handcuffed and deported back to the Gaza Strip. (See: Urgent appeal from Bethlehem University

Berlanty admitted she did not have the required Israeli permission to study in the West Bank -  something that has been increasingly difficult for residents of the Gaza Strip to obtain -  since the 2007 takeover of the area by Hamas. She traveled from Gaza in 2005 on a four-day pass, enrolled in college and never returned.

But she has no security or other charges against her, Israeli authorities acknowledge, and according to university officials and others, has been a very concientious student.

Berlanty is Greek Orthodox and says she was assisted  in leaving Gaza four years ago by papers provided through the church patriarchate.

Brother Jack Carroll, vice president for development at Bethlehem University said: "This is a young woman who is trying to get her bachelor's degree in business from a Vatican-sponsored university. It would be an economic advantage and serve Israel, too. There are no charges against her. They don't have any accusations against her. Her ID said Gaza."

Ruling on a petition by a human rights group, Israel's Supreme Court last Thursday ordered the Defense Ministry to hold an administrative hearing on Berlanty's case this  week and allow her to be represented by a lawyer. 

Israel has introduced severe restrictions on travel out of Gaza  for security reasons. Initially they refused to let students travel to study abroad, including under programs such as the US Fulbright scholarships. The policy has been eased, but it now requires foreign diplomats to act as security escorts and shepherd traveling students from Gaza to the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan.

Churches for Middle East Peace have written to Secretary of State Clinton asking for her to intervene on behalf of Berlanty. The US consul general in Jerusalem, Daniel Rubinstein, has visited Bethlehem University to discuss Berlanty's case. Officials with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv have also made inquiries with the Israeli government.

An article in the Washington Post states:  "Her case has drawn high-level attention from those who question whether such a strict enforcement of the rules is reasonable at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he is trying to ease restrictions on Palestinians and encourage economic development as a way to progress toward peace."

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