Israel's curfews hit classes

March 22, 2002

Lecturers and students at West Bank universities are assessing the damage caused during the week-long incursion by the Israeli Defence Forces.

Ghassan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, said that the universities in the West Bank were officially open during one of the most violent phases of the 17-month-old intifada, but were "functioning to different extents".

Mr Khatib, a lecturer in cultural studies at Bir Zeit University, said during the crisis: "For example, Bir Zeit is officially open, but if you were to come to the university tomorrow you would not find students because most of them live in Ramallah and can't get through because the city is under curfew."

At An-Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus, where a large number of the students are local, most attended classes.

At Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, students travelling from West Bank towns found it difficult to get to classes.

Mr Khatib said it was common for soldiers to stop lecturers and students at the checkpoints.

He said:"All of these developments interrupt the educational process - the attendance of students is quite low. It's very frustrating. You take the risk to cross the checkpoints and out of a class of 30, ten or 15 students show up."

The universities are now facing serious financial difficulties. "The Palestinian Authority is not paying salaries regularly because of the general economic situation. Students are also having difficulties in paying fees," Mr Khatib said.

Bethlehem University closed for more than a week because of the curfew. Manuel Hassassian, its president, said the university was hit by four anti-tank missiles at the height of the confrontation on the nights of March 8 and 9.

Paul Schamm, who coordinates Israeli-Palestinian joint academic projects at the Hebrew University's Truman Institute, said that even in the middle of the recent violence and bloodshed, there was a "marked upturn of Palestinian willingness and interest in joint projects since December".

He said that the projects were almost all between individual academics and non-governmental organisations rather than between universities.

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