Educated or Angry?

I’m embarrassed that I haven’t yet posted anything about the seven Gazan students whose Fulbright scholarships were withdrawn when the Israeli blockade made it impossible for them to travel to the US. Their story looks like it may have a happy ending – the Fulbrights have been reinstated, and the US government is trying to get them visas – but Haitham Sabbah points out that the situation is just one small part of a larger problem:

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both explicitly confirm the rights of all people to freely travel to and from their own state. The Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip, which is about to enter its third year, is systematically and deliberately destroying the Gazan economy, its health and education services, and crushing the future of its people. Gazan students who want to pursue specialist education abroad, many of whom intend to return to Gaza afterwards and assist in rebuilding their country, are being denied this right because Israel remains intent on its illegal policy of collective punishment. An Israeli human rights organization, GISHA, has just gone to the Israeli Supreme Court to petition for 2 Gaza students, Wissam Abuajwa and Nibal Nayef, to be permitted to leave Gaza and study their Masters in the UK and Germany.

Meanwhile, 29 year old Said Ahmad Said Al-Madhoun has been waiting more than a year to pursue his Master of Law abroad. After being awarded a fellowship by the Open Society Institute in January 2007, he was accepted onto a Masters program at the American University, Washington College of Law, but has been unable to reach the US. “I managed to get out of Gaza in December 2007 and to travel to the Egyptian border” says Said. “It was a complex journey – because of the closure we were forced to travel through Erez Crossing (in northern Gaza) and then via another Israeli crossing, at Kerem Shalom, to the Egyptian border. But I was turned back at the [Egyptian] border because I had no US visa.” Said could not obtain a US visa, because, like the vast majority of other Gazans, he is not permitted to travel to Jerusalem, where the US Consulate issues its visas. He attempted to leave Gaza once more in early January, and was turned back at the Egyptian border again. His academic career, and life, suspended, Said is still waiting. “This is so frustrating for me, and for all of us students in Gaza” he says wearily. “We want to work and to learn. We want to enjoy our freedom of movement. We want to determine our future.”

(via Alas, A Blog)

Hadeel Abu Kwaik, one of the Fulbright students, wonders “if Israel wants an educated neighbor or an angry one.” Where is the justice here? In what universe does the blockade help civilians, Palestinian OR Israeli? Does the Israeli government want an educated neighbor or an angry one? The question seems rhetorical, but given the effects of the Gaza blockade – catastrophic for Israelis in Sderot, as rocket attacks continue unabated, and for Gazans, who are being punished collectively for the actions of a few – it doesn’t look like there’s an easy answer.

Kudos to the US for rousing itself long enough to look into the matter, but how can we shake our heads over those backwards terrorist Palestinians who could achieve so much more if they’d just do a little non-terrorist work – and then deny them opportunities to do that work? How can we tell people, “You’re ignorant! Get educated! Be more like us! But don’t even THINK about going to our colleges!” How does that make sense? Someone tell me how, because I don’t get it.

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4 Responses

  1. Palestinians are “one of the most highly educated groups in the Middle East,” according to the UN. ( one reference, but I’ve seen it elsewhere as well.) I think this is more the obvious –outrageously heavy-handed security policies– than anything like a desire to keep the Palestinians uneducated. Stupidity rather than malice. (At the policy level, anyway. Implementation is different.) I even saw that some on the Israeli right are suggesting that educated Palestinians are better for Israel.

    To Israel’s credit, the move has stirred up criticism and opposition here, even from the right. Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, political prisoner, and activist in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry, who is considered quite hawkish (he opposed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005), spoke eloquently about the foolishness of the decision.

  2. (sorry about bad formatting, but the links at least work.)

  3. I totally agree with Sharansky – how can we expect Palestinians to build up their civil society when the US government withdraws these grants and Israel blockades them?

  4. […] remember the seven Palestinian Fulbright scholars? Well, for three of them, it’s game over. The US has denied their visas: The United States […]

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