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Deported Palestinian student can't finish studies

TEL AVIV – A Palestinian student who was deported from the West Bank will not be allowed to finish her studies at Bethlehem University, according to a decision made by Israel's Supreme Court last week. 

Berlanty Azzam, 22, was on track to finish her degree in business management later this month. But she was stopped on Oct. 28 at a routine Israeli checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank, on her way to a job interview.  

When the Israeli guard noticed Gaza City on her ID card, she was immediately arrested for being in the West Bank without permission.Within hours, according to her attorney, Yadin Elam, she was blindfolded, handcuffed, and removed to Gaza by force – without any kind of hearing or access to a lawyer before she was deported. (Her story was reported in the World Blog several weeks ago, "A Gazan student's dream hangs in the balance."

Azzam admits that she did not have the required permission to study in the West Bank – something that has been increasingly difficult for Gazans to obtain since Hamas, the Palestinian militant movement, took over Gaza in 2007 and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that students from Gaza had to obtain a permit. 

But, according to her lawyer, those permits didn't exist when she initially enrolled in Bethlehem University back in 2005. At that time, Azzam received a four-day permit to enter Israel, traveled to Bethlehem to enroll and never went back to Gaza. She also said that she repeatedly tried to get permit-application forms, without success.

Image: Berlanty Azzam
Tara Todras-whitehill / AP

Berlanty Azzam, a Palestinian student talks during an interview in Gaza CIty on Nov. 12. 

Since she was deported, Azzam has been in Gaza while Gisha, an Israeli non-profit organization, took her case to Israel's courts. She was holding out hope that Israel's High Court would decide in her favor and was very disappointed at their final decision. 

"I am very sad today, the Israelis punished me because I am from Gaza, all what I wanted is to have my university degree," she said in a phone interview.

Israel said that it had no security concerns about Azzam, but that since she was in the West Bank illegally, they had no choice but to remove her. The judges said that since she was in the West Bank without a valid student pass, it left "the court no choice but to rule that she stayed in the West Bank illegally. Her schooling is not a sufficient reason for this court to rule in favor of her return," according to Ynetnews.com.

On the telephone, Azzam kept asking "Why?" and said she had been optimistic that she would be allowed to finish her studies. She will not be allowed to appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed that Israel's High Court of Justice chose to accept the state's refusal to allow Berlanty to complete her degree, despite the fact that the state repeatedly failed to provide any real evidence for their claims," said Keren Tamir, a spokesperson for Gisha, the human rights organization that brought her case to court.

"It raises a lot of questions about the Israeli insistence on preventing Palestinian young people, against whom it makes no security claims whatsoever, from accessing higher education," added Tamir.

Meantime, Bethlehem University is looking for a way to let her Azzam finish her bachelor's degree remotely, but has made no decisions yet.