***image2***My name is Omar Deriah. I am studying business administration at Bir Zeit University. I am originally from Aqraba in Nablus district but I am now living in Bir Zeit. It is a three year course, but I have been studying here for four years, for reasons that I will explain.

Originally, I wanted to live at home and come every day from Nablus to University Bir Zeit. However, on the journey I would usually face three military checkpoints in Nablus, first Huwara checkpoint, then Yizhar checkpoint and finally Za'tarah. On reaching Ramallah area, I had two choices: to go through Qalandiya checkpoint or Atarah checkpoint. And of course in addition I would face flying checkpoints every time.

The checkpoints are the main reason that mean that I now live in Bir Zeit. To go from Nablus to Bir Zeit before the checkpoints took three quarters of an hour, so for anyone coming only to study you didn't need to live in Bir Zeit. Now, as a result of the the checkpoints, you are very lucky to reach Nablus in three hours. For the students like me who have voluntary work or other activities, it means arriving home very late. Sometimes the journey can take much longer than three hours. It depends on the what mood the soldiers are in.

Once, a year ago, I faced twenty four checkpoints in one day while I was going to Bir Zeit – I counted them. Of course it was not actually twenty four checkpoints, it was just one military jeep driving in front of us. He would drive for ten minutes, and then stop for one or two hours, not allowing the traffic to pass. This jeep did the same along the way to Ramallah. I left Hawara checkpoint at nine in the morning, and I reached Bir Zeit at six in the evening. These twenty four stops were in addition to the main checkpoints.

When we pass the main checkpoints like Hawara, we get out of the car and walk a few metres to the other side of the checkpoint, and the soldiers search us and check our bags. Sometimes they give will give you a paper telling you to go to the DCO [the office co-ordinating the Israeli and Palestinian authorities]. This happened to me once, but I didn't go. If in the future they give me another of these papers and I don't go, on the second occasion they will hit you or try to humiliate you. On the third time it is a military order, so under their law they can put you in prison if your don't comply.

***image3***At the checkpoint, often the soldiers tell people to take off their clothes. If the soldiers don't want someone to pass, they will just stop them and not let them through. Sometimes you wait for one or two hours, sometimes soldiers just tell people to go back home. It depends on their mood.

Of course, leaving my house and and living in Bir Zeit is costing me a lot of money. In one week the food and transport costs 150 shekels at least for a basic living costs, even without the rent. When you include rent, water and electricity bills it is very expensive.

My father worked in Israel for twenty three years before the Intifada. But my uncle was a political activist and he was wanted by Israel, so the occupation forces gave my father two choices: either to stop working in Israel or to put pressure on his brother to hand himself in. If he did not put pressure on his brother, his daughters and sons would banned from travelling. Of course my father will not put pressure on his brother to hand himself over to the Israelis, so he stopped working in Israel and there are many travel restrictions place on us. He can't get a permit to go to work – they refused for 'security reasons'. So now my father is unemployed. He stayed at the house for four years without any work. Four of his children are studying at Bir Zeit University.

It is very difficult to deal with this situation – you cannot even imagine. Maybe we are not coping with it well, but it is very difficult. We have to finish our studies because it is the only way to go forward in life for us and we have no other option. Even if we wanted to work, there is no work in this country under the occupation. Education is the only way, so we have to get in debt to complete the course. You do anything to complete your studies.

After four years without work, my father opened a small business. He doesn't make much money - only enough to pay the simple expenses and it's certainly not a life of luxury. During the time at university, we didn't pay fees and we were depending on assistance coming from the Arab world. The students put pressure on the University to lower the fees, and to improve the facilities. Life goes on.

***image5***When I first came to University I studied computer programming. I was good at it but I had to stop after three years for a number of reasons. Firstly, I didn't have the money for course expenses. As well as the course fees, there are other expenses for computer programming. You have to take other courses out of the University, which had course fees ranging from $300 up to $1200, in addition to the other costs of the university course. I just could not afford these additional expenses. So I completed computer programming as a secondary subject, and majored in business administration because it is cheaper and is easier to find work after you graduate.

Actually I don't pay full University fees. The course is supposed to cost 500 Jordanian dinar for one semester, but I only pay 100. All students face financial problems at the beginning of the semester and we forced the University administrators to lower the fees, by having a strike at the beginning of each semester. Sometimes we strike for one month and classes and there are no official classes, though there are informal classes. The student council puts pressure on the University to lower the fees.

After one month without having official classes we can get behind in the program of study, which causes academic problems. Because I was registering late as we'd been on strike, when I went to register for the classes I found that most of them were full, because students who could afford it had paid the 500 dinar and registered at the start of the term. So I was forced to change to different subjects or to not study the subjects that I wanted until next semester. Because I was late registering, I will be behind in the programme of study.

My sister is also studying at Bir Zeit, and she was forced to stop the semester for this reason. The strikes have meant that I am one year behind, which is why I have been studying for four years rather than three. Our academic situation affected by the financial situation.

***image6***The whole university is affected in two ways. Firstly, the University operates under a very limited budget because the students are not able to pay the fees and also there is no funding for the things that they need. Secondly, the teachers and professors leave the university as they are not given proper salaries, especially after the siege that the international donors are putting on the government. But academics are not paid decent salaries anyway. So if the college has one professor specialising in one subject, he may well leave the university because he earns less than a third of the salary of professors abroad. Many of the teachers or professors leave because they aren't given salaries, or the salaries are not enough.

For the students, because we don't have enough money we're not able to spend enough time on our studies. If the student focusses all his attention on study, he will have difficulties finding the money to pay the rent, bills and other expenses. If I want to do research for a course, the University will not pay for the research so I have to pay from my own money and with printing, transportation and other costs it is expensive. I don't have the money, so I have to work and it doesn't bring in a lot of money – five shekels for one hour. After work, I can't study because I come back very tired. If my work is at night, then I can't go to the classes the next morning. I know lots of students who are working for five shekels an hour. They come back from work at eleven or twelve at night, so they can't study and their marks are effected.

The situation for students and for the university is going from bad to worse. The authority is supposed to pay some money to the university but they cannot because of the economic siege. The university will close in three years if this situation doesn't change.

I go to Nablus only once a month, as going back is very difficult because of the checkpoints. Personally, I don't like to pass checkpoints because I know that the how the soldiers behave depends on their mood. They might arrest me for some reason. It's a risk whether they will or not. If they arrest me I will lose the four years of study which I am struggling to complete.

There are also personal reasons why I don't go back. There is nothing to do in Aqraba. So I would prefer to stay in Bir Zeit and do activities to develop my skills. It costs me 25 shekels each way to go to Aqraba. In a month, travelling there would costs me 200 shekels that I can use for more useful things.

The most significant problem in education is the arrest of students. If you are involved in any student movement under the student council, which works for the university, the occupation considers it as working against their military law. Every student convicted of this is threatened with arrest and detention. Detention can be renewed can be renewed over and over again. Some are detained for three months, other up to a year. There are some students who are political activists out of the university, they are also threatened with arrest and detention. This affects a lot of students.

***image7***Every new semester, usually the first semester when there are new students, the Israeli intelligence officers, specialising in university issues, appear. They search for details about each student. There are a lot of international students studying in Bir Zeit, working with Israeli intelligence. There are a lot of stories about them and a lot get kicked out of the University.

The Israeli intelligence officers have a huge campaign at the student houses and hostels. The students are scared of them. Usually, they know when they are coming. They come particularly in the first month of the first semester, so the students expect them. They come in the middle of the night, 12 o'clock, 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. I was arrested by them. They entered my house many times, and once arrested me. That night, when they entered my house, there was an Officer with them. He asked me to come with him, not because he wanted me in particular, but because he asked many to come. They took personal photos and collected personal information about each student and made a file.

Sometimes they come and they have a list of names. This is different from the Intelligence officers. When the intelligence officers come they just talk and try to get as much as they can from the students. But when the soldiers come with a list of names, they take the students away. In my case, I was a new student and they wanted to know about who I was. They wanted to study the students cases and situations, and their social background, and to know from this if they can deal with them.

They attacked my house, and the officers told me to come out. I went with them. There were more than seventy students crammed into an armoured bus with no seats. They put blindfolds on everyone and tied their hands and took them to Al Farr military camp. The guard described: “Your hands are tied, this bus is all metal, there are no chairs, it is for thirty or forty people.” There were about seventy people crammed into the bus. It is was very ugly.

When we got to Al Far, they released the blindfolds and there was a nice officer, not in military uniform and very different to soldiers you see at the checkpoint. He spoke to us very calmly. He asks you many details of your life, and asks you some questions that don't seem related. They wanted to make you collaborate with them. They ask you to find out what your reaction will be. The one who interviews you is a sociologist specialised in asking questions to find out if you want to be a collaborator. They are trying to find out how the students think – their aims and what they want.

The soldiers sometimes attack the university. They close the roads that lead to the university with military checkpoints, sometimes on the roads and sometimes on the road in front of the university. Once, two jeeps attacked the university and teased the students to make them nervous, so the students started to throw stones at the jeeps and the soldiers have cameras and took picture of the students throwing stones. They arrested many students for throwing stones and imprisoned them for six months, which means one whole semester.

The aim of the occupation is to cut off the educational process. They don't want to prevent us from receiving education in a direct way. But these circumstances, the pressures that the students face, the political issues and the financial issues all come from the occupation and the siege. I have two choices, either to leave the university, or to complete my studies in the face of all these difficulties.

These situations put the students in a very hard social situation. They limit your life, your activities, your imagination. You are only allowed to live. Students are scared of being arrested. This creates a personality which is corrupted, and not the strong personality which is needed for building, investing and developing. The occupation creates these personalities by limiting your life, arresting you and humiliating you so that you will care only about your own personal things, without skills and an open mind and imagination.

If the students are afraid to use their imaginations and develop, it is because it they know that the might at any time come and arrest them at any time. They don't know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to the soldiers – sometimes students can be arrested for doing nothing. The Israelis want people to be ignorant. If you follow only the academic education and don't have activities, then you are ready only to work, and your work will not be useful in comparison to someone who knowledge and experience. At the same time, we are as students sacrificing and struggling to make the occupation's policies fail. It is a continual struggle. The occupation wants to destroy you, while the students want to resist and to stand against the occupation. We will pay this price until the occupation is ended.

The occupation doesn't close the University directly but in the first Intifada they closed the University for six years. It happens rarely now – but they are using another way. These economic problems, the siege and closures, humiliation, and crushing of hope for the future. These pressures are not designed to close the university, but to close the minds of the students.

If a student wants to try to understand, he must live in free circumstances, and his mind must be allowed to develop freely. But now with all his personal problems, he finds it hard to notice the public problems, and everywhere he sees only his problems.

In comparison with Israeli students, for Palestinian students life is very closed off. The Israelis destroyed the economy of the country by the closures, closed the institutions and closed the hopes of the students. You see the Israeli students who can go to their courses without struggles, easily. The government offers them financial assistance. The teachers are also well paid. Israeli students don't have any real problems. They can travel easily and are not under siege. They can go everywhere to complete their studies. But for Palestinians if they have political problems with the Israelis, even if they have a scholarship they are not free to travel. The Israelis are free to think and free to travel – their situation is very different to that which the occupation has forced on us.

The Wall also impacts on the education system because education is affected by the political situation in the country. It has prohibited some people to from reaching their university. If not in a direct way, like by a wall or checkpoint, it is by the obstacles that I mentioned: by the economic issues. Some students come from families work off land which, if it is confiscated behind the wall makes it is impossible for them to complete their studies especially as Palestine is an agricultural economy.

The wall is a building and a culture. As a building it stops people from moving and has an economic impact as you can't get your products to market past the checkpoints and gates. As a culture, it makes students frustrated. I see it as a prison: not only a physical prison but one that is intended to close your mind, close your future and close your hopes.


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