As Military Lawyer Gives False Promise, Bethlehem University Student is Blindfolded, Handcuffed, and Taken to Gaza by Force

• Berlanty Azzam, 21, was arrested yesterday while crossing from one part of the West Bank to another – just because her address in the Israeli-controlled Population Registry is registered in the Gaza Strip.

• The Military Legal Adviser’s Office promised not to remove her to Gaza pending a court petition this morning by Gisha challenging the removal.

• Despite the promise, Berlanty was blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken to Gaza by force late last night.

                                                                             

Thu., October 29, 2009 – Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement is filing an urgent petition to the Israeli Supreme Court today demanding the immediate return to her studies of Berlanty Azzam, 21, a student at Bethlehem University who was arrested and removed to Gaza last night by the Israeli military. The removal took place even as the Military Legal Adviser’s office promised Gisha’s attorney that Berlanty would not be removed to Gaza pending an opportunity to seek judicial review.

Israel bans Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, and it claims that Palestinians like Berlanty, originally from the Gaza Strip, have no right to remain in the West Bank. In recent weeks and months, the military has begun a campaign to search the West Bank for Palestinians whose ID cards are registered in Gaza and to remove them to Gaza by force.

Berlanty has been living in Bethlehem since 2005, after requesting and receiving a permit from the Israeli military authorizing her to travel through Israel to reach the West Bank. She is in her last semester of a Bachelor’s Degree program in Business Administration, with a minor in Translation. She is due to complete her studies in just two months.

Yesterday afternoon, as she was returning to her home in Bethlehem from a job interview in Ramallah, the car in which Berlanty rode was stopped at a checkpoint. Seeing that her address was registered in Gaza, the soldiers detained her. Gisha Attorney Yadin Elam contacted the Military Legal Adviser’s office and was told that the military intended to remove her and another Palestinian resident to Gaza. However, the military attorney promised that both individuals would be held in detention and not removed to Gaza until Gisha had an opportunity to petition the Supreme Court this morning, challenging the removal.

Despite that promise, Berlanty was blindfolded, handcuffed, and loaded onto a military jeep. The soldiers told her she would be taken to a detention facility in the West Bank, but instead – they brought her to Gaza late last night. The military now refuses to allow her to return to the West Bank. The second Gaza resident arrested remains in detention.

"Since 2005, I refrained from visiting my family in Gaza for fear that I would not be permitted to return to my studies in the West Bank", says Berlanty Azzam. "Now, just two months before graduation, I was arrested and taken to Gaza in the middle of the night, with no way to finish my degree."

"For years, Israel has prevented Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying in Palestinian universities in the West Bank", says Gisha Legal Director Yadin Elam. "Now, the military is arresting those already studying and removing them to Gaza by force – violating their right to freedom of movement and to access education."