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Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Louisa Morgantini, raised important questions to the Council of the European Union about their role in supporting the right to education of Palestinian students residing in Gaza who have scholarships to study in European universities. She also raised a question about Gaza students and their right to education to the European Commission.
The Right to Education Campaign believes the response of these institutions insufficiently addressed the urgency of the matter.
Below is Morgantini’s introduction to both questions, followed by the questions directed specifically to each body and their subsequent replies. The comments by the R2E follow at the end.
According to Amnesty International, there are dozens of Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip who want to leave the Strip to study at universities abroad. These students fulfill all the requirements to study abroad: they have qualifications to show their host universities and are in possession of visas for the host countries. Nevertheless, the Israeli authorities are preventing them from leaving the Gaza Strip.
The refusal of the Israeli authorities to let these students leave violates their right to freedom of movement, as set out in Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and their right to education, as set out in Article 13.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Questions to the Council:
Has the European Council undertaken any action in support of Palestinian students who have scholarships to European universities and/or Palestinian students admitted to European universities and in possession of visas for the host countries that will allow them to leave the Gaza Strip and study in Europe?
What kind of action will the European Council undertake in order to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to let the Palestinian students leave the Gaza Strip and guarantee their right to freedom of movement and education?
Questions to the Commission:
Does the Commission agree that action should be taken not only for Palestinian students that have a scholarship at a European university as part of the programme Erasmus Mundus, but also for students admitted to European universities who are in possession of a visa from the host country?
Which kind of action has the Commission taken and/or is it going to take in order to guarantee the right to freedom of movement and to education of Palestinian students and to allow these students to leave the Gaza Strip and study in Europe?
Response from the Council, 8 December 2008:
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains a source of serious concern to the Council of the European Union, which called “on all parties concerned to work urgently for the regular opening of crossings in and out of Gaza” in its conclusions of 26-27 May 2008. The Council expects that the movement of persons out of Gaza will be normalised in line with the Agreement on Movement and Access between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, signed on 15 November 2005.
The case to which the Honourable Member refers was formally raised recently with the Israeli authorities at the meeting of the EU-Israel sub-committee on political dialogue and cooperation, on 28 October 2008, in the context of Council’s repeated calls for greater freedom of movement and access.”
Response from the Commission , communicated by Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, 10 Deecmber 2008:
“The Commission has been calling Israel on a number of occasions, and in line with the Quartet statement of September 2008, to open the Gaza crossings for normal flows of people, humanitarian assistance and commercial goods. Most recently, the Commission raised the matter during the EU-Israel Political Dialogue subcommittee held on 28 October 2008 in Brussels. Israel currently restricts permits to leave Gaza to humanitarian cases, thus in principle excluding university students.
The Delegation of the Commission in Tel Aviv has been coordinating the departure of 92 Palestinian students (including family members) to their European universities since June 2008, in cooperation with Member States, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) the Commission Technical Assistance Office in Jerusalem (ECTAO), the Palestinian administration and the Jordanian authorities.
In order to carry out its coordinating role, the Commission relies on EU Member States authorities to transmit the names of the students waiting to exit Gaza. To date the names transmitted only included students who have been granted EU-funded or Member State funded scholarships at European universities.
The Commission is continuing to pursue the file with the goal of ensuring that the movement of persons in and out of Gaza, including of course students without scholarships, is normalized.”
The Right to Education Campaign welcomes the efforts by the Commission on helping to secure the placements and visa applications for Gaza students holding scholarships for European universities, however, it is clear that not all the 92 Palestinian students they have been supporting since June 2008 have managed to reach their studies, and are running the risk of losing their scholarships. We call on the European Commission to take the issues as matter of urgency and to intervene politically when necessary. We would like to remind them of the case of Fulbright scholars whose visa applications were only facilitated after the intervention of the Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
As for the council of the European Union, it is clear that Israel does not respect the Agreement on Movement and Access as it has limited the access of food, medicine, books, equipment, journalists and even academics since June 2007. At the time of the Council’s response, Israel had already prevented all UN supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. Calling for such Agreement to be respected when the reality on the ground is so obvious and urgent, is somewhat of a travesty. The statement could have accurately addressed the use of food as a weapon of war, and furthermore, the Campaign believes that what we are witnessing in Gaza is also the use of education as a weapon of war.