Saturday, October 22, 2016

In Palestine, studying abroad is a fight for freedom

By Fatima Masri - August 20, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [freedom of movement]

Photo by Fatima Masri

Albaraa Kefaya’s dream came true the day he was accepted for an internship at Berkley University, California. With the US visa in hand, he approached the border with Jordan and found out that a security alert had been issued against him.  

The twenty-five year-old engineer student is considered a threat to the state of Israel due to his alleged connections to the Islamist liberation movement, Hamas. He denies having ever been involved in any political movement; however, similar security allegations have already led him to jail twice, in 2007 and in 2011. Today he is imprisoned in a wider jail, the occupied West Bank.
Albaraa’s struggle to pursue higher education abroad is the result of Israeli blanket policies to limit freedom of movement. According to the statistics made by the Euro-Mid Human Rights Organization (Euro-Mid), the Israeli authorities annually prevent more than 4000 people from leaving the West Bank, which means an average of 83 cases per week.
The International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that no one shall be arbitrarily prevented from leaving his own country, specifying that the definition applies also to the Palestinian occupied territories. Although Israel has both signed and ratified the convention, it regularly violates its international obligations on the tenet that every Palestinian poses a potential security threat. 
“If I am a threat to Israel, why don’t they let me go far away?,” Albaraa argues. In May, hopes were revived following the Israeli proposal to reach a deal, spurred on by intervention from the Center for the Defence of the Individual (HaMoked). The agreement disposed that he could leave the country, provided he would not return to Palestine for three years. Despite the fact that his internship at Berkley’s University had been granted for only three months, Albaraa signed the contract.  
Upon arrival in Amman, he was questioned by the Jordanian authorities and held in a room for ten hours, handcuffed and blindfolded. “They asked me why I had been in jail and then withdrew my passport, saying that I as not worthy of having a Jordanian passport because I had been convicted by the Israelis,” he recounts. Once again, he was sent back to the West Bank, deprived of his second nationality and subject to a new round of humiliation. 
Once again, he was sent back to the West Bank, deprived of his second nationality and subject to a new round of humiliation. 
On the 8 July, Albaraa Kefaya was summoned by the Israeli intelligence for an interview in the prison of Ofer, close to Ramallah. He claims that the Israelis openly admitted their responsibility for the treatment undergone in Jordan. “In this way, Israel can pretend not to be responsible and preserve its world image,” he argues. 
The constant alternation between hopes and frustration is part of a nerve-racking strategy adopted by Israel to widen its net of informers within the Palestinian territories. Albaraa is not willing to accept the blackmail:  “In Ofer, the Israeli intelligence asked me to become 'their friend.’ They said that if I agreed to do this they would let me leave, but I will never do that. Some people believe this is their only option, but the truth is that if you are a spy you become important for them and they will never let you leave.” 
The ICCPR requires that Israel maintain normal living conditions for the residents of the occupied territories. Despite this, the Israeli humanitarian organization B’tselem argues that freedom of movement in Palestine is “not a right, but a privilege that Israel may grant or deny as it sees fit.”
The Palestinian Authority (PA) retains the right of issuing identity cards for residents in the occupied territories, as agreed in the Oslo Accords. However, Israel bears control over the Palestinian right to freedom of movement, and the PA has no power to intervene on behalf of its population. 
Albaraa has only one request for the Israelis: “Let me see the world,” he begs. If his life will turn out like his father’s, all Albaraa will ever know is the West Bank and California will remain an unrealised dream. 

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