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Activists kept out of Bir Zeit University

By Ashley Nowe
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday September 12, 2003

Tighter Israeli restrictions on American student activists who want to study in the Palestinian territories might have been the reason a former UA student could not enter Israel, said the chairman of a U.S. based group that supports Bir Zeit University.

Since a student-protester from Olympia, Wash., was killed during a protest in Israel last March, student access to the country has been scarcer, said Fred Ajlouni, a lawyer and chairman of Friends of Bir Zeit University.

"They'll really scrutinize American students," Ajlouni said. "The student really has to prove to them that they are interested in studying."

According to the registrar's office, when Paul Snodgrass went to Israel one week ago, he was not registered as a UA student.

Although he provided Israeli officials with his UA transcripts and Bir Zeit registration forms, Snodgrass was denied access into Israel while on his way to study Arabic at Bir Zeit University.

Bir Zeit University has not responded to e-mails sent over the past two days.

"Many other Americans have been denied access," Ajlouni said. "Especially those who have been active in support of Palestinian causes."

Snodgrass is a former member of the UA's Alliance for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, a group that supports the Palestinians' right of return and proposes that Israel and Palestine exist as either two, fully independent states, or one bi-national state.

During the 12-hour interrogation that Snodgrass underwent, Israeli officials asked that he reveal the names of Semitic students who attend the UA in order to gain entry, but Snodgrass refused and was sent back to London, according to an APJME press release.

Yariv Ovadia, consul for communications and public affairs at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, said that Israeli officials denied access to Snodgrass because Bir Zeit University is known as a hot-bed for terrorists.

"Bir Zeit was supposed to be a good, normal university, but that is not how it turned out," Ovadia said. "The university supports terrorism."

Ajlouni, who maintains ties with Bir Zeit even though he lives in the United States, denies that the university trains terrorists.

"That is a big lie," Ajlouni said. "For the last three years I haven't heard of any terrorism connected with Bir Zeit University. People there are all interested in peace and just want this (violence) to stop."

Bir Zeit University, located 26 kilometers from Jerusalem, was where one of the two bombers in Tuesday's suicide bombings went to school, according to an article in yesterday's Washington Post.

Ihab Abed Qader Abu Salim, 19, was attending Bir Zeit University and working towards a journalism degree before he detonated a bomb one mile from the line that separates Israel and the West Bank, killing eight people, not including the bomber, according to the Washington Post.

"This is proof that Bir Zeit produces terrorists," Ovadia said.

The UA study abroad office recognizes the university as a valid educational establishment because it is accredited, which means that credits can transfer to the UA.

Before leaving for Bir Zeit, Snodgrass spoke to Anne Betteridge, the director for Middle Eastern studies.

Snodgrass checked to see if his registered classes at Bir Zeit could transfer over to the UA, completing his minor in Near Eastern Studies, she said.

Betteridge confirmed that in fact the credits would transfer because Bir Zeit is an accredited university, and that the classes he was registered for would apply toward his Near Eastern Studies minor, she said.

Though not currently registered, Snodgrass was expected to graduate this December, with a major in history and a minor in Near Eastern Studies and political science, according to the UA registrar's office.

- Ian Musil contributed to this report.

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