By Stuart Littlewood – London
The dragged-out scandal of final-year Bethlehem student Berlanty Azzam’s arrest and abduction – handcuffed and blindfolded – and subsequent dumping in Gaza in the middle of the night just weeks before she was due to complete her degree, has horrified the Christian world far beyond the walled-in, imprisoned city of modern-day Bethlehem.
Berlanty, a young Christian girl, is being persecuted and cruelly denied her inalienable rights by the illegal invader and occupier, just like any of her Muslim friends and neighbours.
She was snatched by the Israeli military while returning from a job interview in Ramallah. That was around six weeks ago. Since then she has been forced to kick her heels far from the University at this most important time in her studies…. and in her young life.
After her first fruitless hearing, I wrote again to the Israeli embassy in London asking for the Ambassador’s further thoughts and advice on this regrettable incident and reminding him that time was short. I have just received this reply……
"On 9th December 2009 the Supreme Court held a hearing on Ms Azzam’s case. The court, comprised of three judges, decided to reject the appeal of Ms Azzam, who currently resides in the Gaza Strip, to return to the West Bank to complete her studies at Bethlehem University.
"The court ruled that despite the mitigating circumstances cited by the appeal (that Ms Azzam is close to completing her studies, and that there were procedural faults in the security forces’ handling of her case), it was not justifiable to reach a different ruling to that made in similar past cases. Indeed, the court observed that, “any other conclusion will be an unjustified preference of the petitioner over other Gaza residents that their request was denied and have stayed in Gaza as a result”.
"The petitioners (Ms Azzam and the “Gisha” organisation), argued that, since Gaza residents had only required a permit to stay in the West Bank from the end of 2007, this did not apply to Ms Azzam, who had studied there since 2005. However, not only is this argument invalid, but that fact appears acknowledged by Ms Azzam’s actions:
"1. In 2007 a change was made to the permit forms given to Palestinians to stay in the West Bank but, it was merely technical: the heading of the form was changed from “Entry Permit to Israel” (with a field that indicated the exact location i.e. Jerusalem, West Bank etc.) to “A Permit to Stay in the West Bank”. Both before and after this change, Palestinians moving from Gaza to the West Bank required a permit. The permit Ms Azzam originally obtained was “Entry Permit to Israel”; the location field specified Jerusalem – not the West Bank – and was valid for 5 days only. Given Ms Azzam’s original application for the permit and the fact that she was carrying it when arrested, it is obvious that she was aware of the necessity of such a permit.
"2. The security forces had on record copies of previous permits for Ms Azzam (for example, one she had received in 2004 to celebrate Christmas in the West Bank). This reinforces the notion that Ms Azzam was aware of the need for a permit to enter and stay legally in the West Bank.
"3. The court additionally noted that Ms Azzam’s attempts to register address change(s) during her four years in the West Bank reflected an understanding on her part of the necessity of such coordination with the civil authorities.
"To summarise: the court noted that, given Ms Azzam’s behaviour it was evident that she was aware of the necessity of a written permit to reside in the West Bank; further, that the original permit was issued for religious reasons, applied only to Jerusalem, and was only valid for five days.
"The court acknowledged that the security forces had made procedural mistakes in Ms Azzam’s case. The order of the Israeli legal advisor in the West Bank to delay deportation until Ms Azzam’s lawyer arrived did not immediately reach the security forces; as such, the hearing – with all parties participating – was eventually held at the Erez crossing.
"However, the Supreme Court ruled that given that the hearing had occurred nonetheless, and that Ms Azzam’s appeal had been heard by the Supreme Court, initial procedural inconsistencies did not warrant per se a ruling in favour of Ms Azzam.
"Ms Azzam had full access to the Israeli legal system including the Supreme Court during her appeal, and reserves the right to request a new Supreme Court deliberation, which must be submitted within 15 days of the Court ruling."
It’s a classic example of how Israel’s administrative ‘laws’ are framed to ride rough-shod over citizens’ rights enshrined in international law and to disregard its own obligations entirely.
For example, there is no recognition in the Israeli court’s decision that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are internationally recognized as one integral territory and that under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory. Nor is there the slightest acknowledgement by Israel’s judiciary of the state’s responsibility under the Oslo Agreements to “respect and preserve without obstacles, normal and smooth movement of people, vehicles and goods within the West Bank, and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip”.
They say the consideration with which it treats the young and the elderly is a mark of a country’s moral standing in the civilized world. Israel, evidently, has yet to emerge from the swamp.
While the Israel’s embassy here was sending out its Supreme Court’s despicable ruling on Berlanty’s fate, the Ambassador was whining about how absurd it was that a warrant had been issued in London for the arrest of ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes. Livni had overseen the murderous assault on Gaza last December/January, which killed 1400, including a large number of women and children, maimed thousands more and left countless families homeless.
If Berlanty, who has committed no crime, cannot come and go as she pleases in her own country – the Holy Land – what makes Israel’s Ambassador think that the bloodsoaked Livni, and others like her, are going to come and go as they please in the UK?
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.