Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Blog

By Vieshnavi Rattehalli

2012 Fall Intern

An Israeli travel ban on Palestinians from Gaza led the American Consulate in Jerusalem to cancel a two-year-old scholarship program that gave 30 bright and financially disadvantaged students from Gaza and the West Bank the opportunity to study at local Palestinian universities. The scholarship program, launched in 2012 by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and run by nonprofit Amideast, is one of the few American outreach programs that directly assist citizens of Gaza.

After receiving notification from the Israeli government that it would not lift the travel ban for Gaza students on the scholarship, the American Consulate in Jerusalem decided to extend the scholarships only to applicants from the West Bank. The travel ban, which was upheld last month by the Israeli Supreme Court, allows about 5,000 exceptions for humanitarian cases per month but does not consider education a humanitarian concern.

The Israeli government has cited security concerns for imposing the travel ban on Gaza’s residents. Israeli officials have backed up the travel ban against students with claims that West Bank universities are used by groups like Hamas to recruit and train militants who then pose a threat to Israel. “Hamas makes great efforts to establish new affiliates of the terrorist infrastructure from Gaza to the West Bank, and to transfer knowledge to strengthen the existing infrastructure in the West Bank today,” Israeli military spokesman Guy Inbar said

This political battle has the greatest negative impact on talented and motivated students in Gaza, who find themselves trapped in Gaza with unfair restrictions on access to education. Eighteen-year-old Amal Ashour had just completed her senior year of high school in Minnesota through a US government-funded exchange program, and had received another US government scholarship to study English Literature at a university in the West Bank. However, one month before school started, she received notice that the scholarship was no longer available. She will be attending the Hamas-controlled Islamic University instead.

What is most striking is how such restrictive living conditions have been normalized for the people of Gaza.  “When you live in Gaza, you’re a pawn in a greater political game. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Ashour said in a telephone interview to the Associated Press.

The Israeli government is not the only entity restricting movement for Gaza’s residents. Last year, Hamas barred seven students from studying for one year in a high school in the United States, citing concerns that they would not be supervised in accordance with Islamic precepts. “When I studied in America, I loved how you could travel from state to state without any borders. You live your life,” Ashour said. “I can’t leave Gaza. Everyone — Hamas, Israel, everyone — is controlling us. We are just students. We don’t have anything to do with politics.”

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