Ma’an News Agency
Finishing her classes over the phone and e-mail, Berlanty Azzam, pulled out of a car, handcuffed, blindfolded and deported from the West Bank to Gaza in October, will be awarded her degree on Sunday, officials from Bethlehem University announced.
In a statement issued Saturday, the university said a Sunday mass in Gaza’s Church of the Holy Family would be held to honor Berlanty,21, and confer on her a Bachelor of Arts degree. The student was denied permission by Israeli courts to return to Bethlehem to complete her degree.
A court battle saw Israeli rights group Gisha defend the young woman. The appeal was rejected despite the Israeli army’s admission that Berlanty posed no security threat to Israel, that she had no record to speak of, that she was targeted only because her ID card indicated she was a Gaza resident and that she was removed from the West Bank without having the opportunity to consult a lawyer.
The military rationale for her forcible deportation was that as a Gaza resident, family and friends in the Strip could use their influence over her for the purpose of attacks against Israel.
Though upon the conference of her degree all appeals to get Berlanty back to Bethlehem for the completion of her studies will be dropped, an additonal 12 Palestinians living in Gaza, who were accepted to BU in the fall, are stuck in the Strip awaiting permits to travel to Bethlehem for study.
BU spokesman Brother Jack Curran said the fight over the issue of freedom of education for Palestinians would not end with the conference of the degree.
Six of Gazan residents admitted to BU have since accepted offers at other institutions, but the remaining half dozen are working with Gisha to reapply for permits to leave Gaza for the purpose of study.
“There are BU Alumni in Gaza helping to rally the students,” Curran said, noting the university was working closely with Gisha to ensure the students had all necessary documentation for an application.
Media reports during Berlanty’s trial noted Israeli officials had not granted permits to Gazans seeking to study in the West Bank since 2007.
“We have to be hopeful,” Curran said “other reports said they were reviewing applications on a case-by-case basis, so there is still a chance.”
Curran said the letter-writing campaign from BU supporters activated during Berlanty’s trial would be continued, with university staff encouraging donors, visitors and international figures to register their objection to the Israeli policy and help get the students admitted to the university permission to leave Gaza.
“We are trying to keep the positive momentum going,” Curran said, “we want to help realize students’ right to freedom of education.”