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Right to Education

Absent: Gaza’s best and brightest banned from universities abroad

Written by admin  •  Wednesday, 08.10.2008, 14:15
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Zuheir Abu Sha’ban is just one of thousands of Palestinian students with the academic credentials to succeed in higher education.

The student graduated with a degree in electronic engineering in 2007, which enabled him to work as a teacher’s assistant for a year at Gaza’s Islamic University.

But Zuheir aspired to continue his coursework at a master’s program in the United States, receiving a Fulbright scholarship for his demonstrated academic success.

“I had dreamed of getting a scholarship to do my MA,” he told Ma’an. The only obstacle for Zuheir was getting to America to begin his studies.

According to him, Israeli officials gave the US “fake information” about the young man and two others. Barred from traveling through the Erez crossing point, Zuheir feared his scholarship would be revoked.

The student said Israeli authorities interrogated him, though he admitted it was less a “personal investigation” as much as an attempt to get information about the Gaza Strip and its Islamic University, where he taught.

In early October, Zuheir’s worst fears were confirmed: his scholarship had been revoked. “I lost my opportunity to study in the US,” he said, though a London university apparently ignored the complications that he said originated with Israeli authorities.

But classes started last week, and Zuheir is stuck in Gaza waiting for an opportunity to leave. “Now I may lose my (second) scholarship due to the closure,” he fears.

Zuheir is just one of hundreds of Gaza students effectively banned from leaving the territory that remains besieged by blockade, which Israel established following the Hamas takeover of the Mediterranean strip.

One side effect of the blockade intended to isolate Hamas militants is that hundreds of uninvolved students can no longer join their universities abroad, such as Zuheir’s first one in the United States, and the London university he now hopes to join.

Though the would-be Fulbright scholar appealed to the British Council to intervene on his behalf, he is yet to receive a response. In London, his classmates will enter their second week of coursework while Zuheir waits in Gaza.

A spokesperson for the de facto government in Gaza blamed Egyptian authorities for impeding the travel of Gaza students.

Eyhab Al-Ghussein told Ma’an that “usually, the crossing is opened for two days each time. The first day everything goes very well and organized, but the second day, on which students are supposed to travel, the Egyptians impede passage of students and decrease the number of buses scheduled to leave.”

And on liaising with outside officials, Al-Ghussein said that de facto officials try not to give priority to one sector over another, but to the Palestinians as a whole. However, he explained, citizens occasionally “make arrangements” with Egyptian officers by contacting them directly, “or through bribery.”

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) government occasionally intervenes too, he said.

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