Photo: Lior Naor
Gaza students stuck in Strip
Palestinians say hundreds of scholarship recipients unable to leave due to Israeli siege

With the 2009-2010 academic year under way, 838 Palestinian university students are still waiting for the authorization that will enable them to leave the Gaza Strip in favor of overseas universities.


According to Gisha the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the students cannot leave the Strip due to the Israeli blockade on Gaza.


The Palestinian Interior Ministry said that some 1,983 students who have been accepted to universities abroad have applied for the necessary permits, but only 1,145 have been cleared to travel through the Rafah crossing. Seventy others have been cleared to travel through the Erez crossing.


Palestinian students who wish to cross into Israel en route to an overseas university have to deal with substantial red tape: They must have a "recognizable" scholarship awarded by a school in a country that has diplomatic relations with Israel.


Students can cross over into Israel either through the Erez crossing, and then directly head to the Allenby Bridge and into Jordan for a flight to their destination; or via the Rafah crossing, and on to their destination through Egypt.


Since June 2008, Gaza students are required to be accompanied by an official diplomatic delegate from the county they are bound to. The complexities of coordinating such efforts, as well as the fact that the Rafah crossing is mostly closed, have resulted in only 12% of students having been able to cross through it.


Gisha filed an appeal with the Civil Administration demanding it rescind the diplomatic escort requirement and allow all Palestinian students who have been accepted to an overseas school to attend their studies, subject to security screening.


"It is unclear what Israel is trying to gain by continuing to make it hard for Palestinian youths to acquire higher education," said Gisha Director Attorney Sari Bashi.


The Civil Administration offered the following response: "The policy of allowing scholarship recipients from Gaza is derived from the government's overall policy regarding the Strip.


"Israel is under no legal obligation to allow Palestinian students to cross into it for the mere sake of traveling abroad to school. Nevertheless, it was recently decided to ease such departures and some 200 scholarship recipients have left Gaza since 2008."  


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