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After their decision to withdraw all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza who were due to begin their advanced degrees at American institutions in the new academic year of 2008, the U.S State Department has made a sudden turn-around move and is now working to get the seven Gaza students out of the blockaded territory to pursue their scholarship studies.
Since Israel’s declaration that Gaza is “hostile territory” in September 2007, more than 670 university students who seek to exercise their right to travel abroad to pursue higher education, have been trapped within the Gaza strip. Israel’s ongoing control of Gaza’s borders has blocked all human traffic to and from the Gaza strip, with the exception of a small number of people defined by the military as “humanitarian cases”. In the eyes of Israel’s decision makers, students who aspire to exercise their right to pursue higher education do not fit into this category.
Due to this policy of isolation and siege, the United States Consulate in Jerusalem stated that the grant money has been “redirected” to students elsewhere, out of concern that it would be wasted if Israel did not allow the Palestinian students to leave Gaza. The seven students, who were informed by e-mail on Thursday of the U.S State Department’s decision, will have lost their opportunity to pursue their higher education in the U.S this year.
Sari Bashi, who directs Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, said, “The fact that the U.S. cannot even get taxpayer-funded Fulbright students out of Gaza demonstrates the injustice and short-sightedness of a closure policy that arbitrarily traps 1.5 million people, including hundreds of Palestinian students accepted to universities abroad.”
In a sudden turn-around move on Sunday, the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has said that it is now “working closely” with Israeli officials to help the students to get permission to leave Gaza, to travel to east Jerusalem, where they will work on getting them visas for the U.S – that is, if they are allowed by Israeli officials to leave Gaza.
Sources: NY Times, Gisha report on Higher Education in Gaza, Haaretz