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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Palestinian battles to study in East Jerusalem
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Anata, West Bank

Sawsan Salameh, Palestinian chemistry student
Sawsan Salameh is adamant that she will achieve her dream of getting a PhD

Sawsan Salameh should have spent this week in the laboratories at Hebrew university starting to work on her PhD in theoretical chemistry.

But instead the 29-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank has carried on working as a science teacher at a local high school.

Despite being given a full scholarship by the Hebrew University to pursue her studies, Ms Salameh has fallen foul of new Israeli army regulations preventing Palestinian students from entering East Jerusalem on security grounds.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1981 but its claim to the area is not recognised internationally. Palestinians want to establish their capital in East Jerusalem.

Allowing Palestinians to get an education in Israel is in our long-term benefit. It will foster better relations between the two sides
Sari Bashi
Human rights activist
"It's been my dream since I was 16 to get a doctorate," says Ms Salameh sitting in her family's apartment in Anata.

From the end of her road you can see the university in the distance but a dusty Israeli checkpoint stands between Ms Salameh and further study.

"It's my dream to become a professor of chemistry," she says. "But now I feel my whole future is on hold."

Supreme Court

Ms Salameh's position is reflects that of many Palestinians who have lived with severe restrictions on their movement since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.

She says that she has applied to the Israeli authorities eight times to get the necessary permit to study in Israel but all requests were refused.

Her case has now been taken to the Israeli Supreme Court by the Israeli human rights group Gisha.

"Allowing Palestinians to get an education in Israel is in our long-term benefit," says Sari Bashi, the director of the group. "It will foster better relations between the two sides."

On Wednesday, the Israeli authorities asked the Supreme Court for a further two weeks to prepare their case against the student.

Since the Palestinian militant group Hamas took over the Palestinian authority in March, Israel has enforced severe travel restrictions on Palestinians to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians, say government officials.

Studying overseas

The new blanket ban on Palestinian students entering Israel dates from this October - the start of the academic year.

Previously Palestinian students saw their cases judged on an individual basis but that is no longer the case, says Lieutenant Adam Avidan, a spokesman for the civil administration in the West Bank.

I was so happy because I felt I was judged on my academic record and not on the grounds of what religion I belong to or what nationality I am
Sawsan Salameh

In support of Ms Salameh and others like her, seven Israeli universities have called for an end to the sweeping ban and demanded that Palestinian students who get security clearance should be admitted into the country.

With none of the Palestinian universities offering PhD programmes, students from the West Bank and Gaza either study in Israel or go overseas.

But access to Israeli universities for Palestinian students from Gaza and the West Bank is almost non-existent, with only 14 students enrolled in Israeli universities, according to the Israel authorities.

Ms Salameh says that studying in Israel is her only chance to get a PhD as she must remain at home.

Non Judgemental

Her father died last year and she provides for her mother and her sister.

Ms Salameh - who wears a headscarf - says coming from a traditional Muslim home means that it would be unacceptable for her to travel abroad alone.

Encouraged by friends studying at Israeli institutions, Ms Salameh applied to Hebrew university and says she was delighted when they accepted her.

"I was so happy," she says, "because I felt I was judged on my academic record and not on the grounds of what religion I belong to or what nationality I am."

Ms Salameh has nothing but praise for the Hebrew University authorities who have encouraged her throughout the nine months she has been trying to get the permits that would allow her to get through the checkpoint.

She is adamant that she will achieve her dream of getting a PhD.

"I have to do this," she says. "I have to prove something and I will not give up."

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