'I think they are trying to erase us'

April 12, 2002

The cycle of violence - Palestinian suicide bomb attacks in Israeli cities and Israeli tank attacks on Palestinian cities - has taken its toll on students and universities on both sides.

Palestinian students are often unable to reach their universities because of Israeli checkpoints, and Israelis have been called up as reservists in the army, with their studies interrupted.

Palestinian students, especially at the checkpoint at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, feel they are being harassed.

Yet the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria has cited cases of university students from the West Bank connected with terrorist groups. A spokesman for the administration was unavailable for comment due to this week's violent clashes in Jenin.

Albert Aghazarian, director of public relations at Bir Zeit, said: "We are seeing the last chapter of the bloody, dirty occupation. Israel has to fold back to the 1967 borders. If they don't withdraw, they'll go down the drain."

Bir Zeit has been closed on and off over the past month, according to Beth Muldrew, a graduate of Oxford University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, who is working as a volunteer in the university public relations department to help coordinate its human rights project.

Ms Muldrew is striving to keep track of the students who are arrested. She said that Bir Zeit students and staff had "lost" 70 days of teaching since October.

"After the killing of Rehavim Zeevi, Israel's former tourism minister, a curfew was put on Bir Zeit. The university was closed for four years during the first intifada. You feel everything is an attempt to sabotage what you're doing," she said.

Even Palestinians who were previously in the Peace Now Movement find it hard to imagine being friends with Israelis in the current climate.

Lara Khalidi, a second-year student at Bir Zeit, said: "If there's going to be peace, then you'd have to imagine being friends with a 20-year-old soldier who harassed us at the checkpoints.

"We are always under siege - not only by place or time. It's not only the price of place, but of time. I think they're trying to erase us," she said.

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