For Immediate Release Saturday, March 22, 1997

INTERFERENCE WITH FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT FURTHER AGGRAVATES SITUATION Difficulty of Access to Gaza by Palestinians from Jerusalem and Israel Causes Postponement of Birzeit University-sponsored Training Course

Birzeit--Yesterday, Friday, March 21, 1997, for the second time in recent months, an Israeli-imposed ban (implemented prior to the bomb attack in Tel Aviv at midday) prevented Palestinian trainers from reaching Gaza to carry out courses organized by the Birzeit University Continuing Education Department (CED). Similar problems entering Gaza have been reported with increasing frequency by Palestinians from Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank and inside Israel since Israeli forces redeployed in Gaza and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established in 1994. Such measures violate the right to freedom of movement and undermine the development of Palestinian society and its institutions. As such they further, and unnecessarily, aggravate an already difficult atmosphere.

In the latest example, CED had organized a course entitled "Public Relations Management" in cooperation with the National Center for Public Administration (NCPA) at the Palestinian Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MOPIC). The 25-hour course, sponsored by Japanese Government Funding administered by UNDP, was designed for 20 directors of Public Relations Departments representing most of PNA ministries as well as several security forces.

CED contracted Dr. Shafiq Masalha, a practicing clinical psychologist from the Galilee and the supervisor of Counseling Services at Hebrew University, to conduct the first module addressing personal communications skills. Dr. Masalha has extensive experience in training and has traveled to Gaza on numerous occasions. The module was to have taken place on Friday and Saturday, 21-22 March. The NCPA/MOPIC arranged for Dr. Masalha's permit to enter Gaza as required by Israel from carriers of Israeli or Jerusalem identity cards, as well as a permit for the CED staff person responsible for the project who comes from Jerusalem. On Thursday, CED received confirmation that the permit was ready.

On the Friday morning news, CED organizers heard that all carriers of Israeli or Jerusalem identity cards would be banned from Gaza "for security reasons" until Sunday. Nevertheless, because they had confirmed entry permits and because the course had been underdevelopment since January, the organizers decided to try to enter despite the unexpected ban. After two hours of negotiations with border officials, including interventions by the NCPA/MOPIC, Dr. Masalha and the CED staff person were forced to return to Jerusalem and the course was postponed.

On other occasions other Birzeit University professors and administrators, including Political Science professor Dr. Ali Jarbawi, and Director of Public Relations Albert Aghazarian, have been impeded from carrying out training, meetings, or other responsibilities by their inability to enter Gaza. In another case concerning a CED course in general management skills in February 1997, a CED trainer was banned from entering Gaza for "security reasons" even though he was not aware of any previous security file.

For the sake of the peace process it is vital that the development of Palestinian society continues unhindered. Measures such as this against the intellectual leaders of Palestinian society create an environment where support for the peace process is undermined by disillusionment.

HRAP Press Release No. 2/97 Human Rights Action Project