Arab bank customers turned away by new campus rules

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Also in this week’s Palestine Report: the International Solidarity Movement plugs on in a vacuum of world complacence and the chief architect of Al Aqsa Mosque answers Israel’s charges. The full magazine is available upon subscription.

SINCE THE deadly bombing of Hebrew University’s cafeteria, security personnel at the school have adopted new measures to try to restrict access to the university. These new rules are preventing Palestinians from entering the campus in order to access the banks on campus. Many residents living in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Essawiyeh and Jebel Tor have been using the Israeli Mercantile Discount Bank and post office bank within the university campus for years. Now that relationship is in jeopardy.

“I arrived at the university’s main gate and a guard stopped me and asked me where I was going,” remembers Tariq Abu Sbitan, who tried to enter Hebrew University on September 29. “I told him that I wanted to go to the bank inside, where I had opened an account over three years ago when I was working at the university.” Abu Sbitan was then asked to go to the university security office to obtain a permit to go to the bank.

“This was the first time that I had been asked to do this,” Sbitan says in retrospect. When Sbitan complied, he found a long line of people in line. After a wait, Sbitan explained to the employee what he needed. Still he was told: “I have instructions to allow only students in, and I cannot break the rules. You can wait for the head officer and ask him for permission to enter the university.” Sbitan then waited outside the security office with a group of Palestinians who appeared also to be waiting to obtain an entry permit to the bank.

Sheikh Mahmoud Siyam was one of those standing with the group. Twenty years ago, he had opened an account at the bank as an employee of the university. In 1988, he retired and has been going to the bank ever since to draw the pension on which he lives.

“I have been standing here since 10 in the morning and it is now almost noon and the officer still hasn’t arrived,” he complained. “A little while ago an old man left after waiting for two hours for them to grant him permission to reach the bank, all to no avail.” Soon after, Siyam himself left the area without his pension, despairing that the security officer would ever arrive.

The university administration says that the new restrictions are only in response to the attack within the campus walls that claimed students’ lives. A spokeswoman said that the university has decided to prohibit any person not carrying a student ID or employed at the university from entering the university grounds. Effectively, the banks located on campus are also off-limits to outsiders.

For its part, the administration of Mercantile Discount Bank says it does not accept the new measures and says it has tried numerous times to discuss the matter with university security officials. But even when the bank’s assistant director tried to escort an Arab auditor onto the campus grounds, the security personnel refused the man entry.

The bank’s assistant director says that now the bank is seeking assistance in mediating the dispute from higher-ups. He emphasized however, that the bank can do little in dictating its demands to the school because it stands within the campus grounds. It is clear, however, that the new procedures are having a negative effect on the bank’s business.

Bethina Ali Mustafa was prevented from doing her banking, but she recounts an even stranger story told by her relative, Umm Jihad ‘Aliyan. According to ‘Aliyan, guards did allow her and three other women to enter the university grounds and go to the bank, on the condition that they withdraw all their funds and close their accounts. The women agreed to do this, and when they got to the bank explained their reason for taking their money elsewhere. The bank administration responded that the guards’ stipulations were illegal and that the university administration cannot force patrons to withdraw their money from the bank.

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