‘Israeli Supreme Court Decision Leaves Only One Certified Occupational Therapist to Treat 24,000 Patients in Gaza

Thu., August 9, 2007 – Ten occupational therapy students from Gaza will not be allowed to complete their studies; Israel’s Supreme Court accepted the military’s position banning Gaza residents from studying in the West Bank, although it asked the military to consider exceptions.

Gisha’s Legal Adviser, Prof. Kenneth Mann: “The ban violates Israel’s duty to allow Gaza residents to provide and receive critical health and education services.”

In a decision served today, August 9, 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected petitions submitted by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and Bituna-Our Home for Community Development, in the name of ten occupational therapy students from Gaza who asked to reach their studies at Bethlehem University. The students had been studying from Gaza by “remote control,” because of the sweeping ban that the military imposed on students from Gaza entering the West Bank. Although the court rejected the petitions, it recognized the need for the military to create a mechanism which would evaluate exceptional requests to travel to the West Bank with “positive humanitarian implications”.

After trying for four years to reach Bethlehem University, including 1.5 years of litigation, the students had asked to be allowed to reach the West Bank for what remains of their studies – two months of clinical training that must take place in the West Bank, under the supervision of certified therapists. Israel’s military banned the students from completing their studies and joining the only certified occupational therapist working in Gaza, where more than 24,000 disabled persons could be benefited by rehabilitation.

Occupational therapy – like other critical professions including medicine and physical therapy – cannot be studied in Gaza but rather only in the West Bank.

“The humanity of this field is what attracted me to it,” said Sharaf Faqawi, one of the students. “I was attracted to the possibility of providing a holistic solution to all the people who need therapy.”

“I thought we would be the first ten occupational therapists in Gaza,” said Reham Almza’anen, one of the students, “but the quality of our studies is crippled by our inability to receive training in the West Bank.”

“Gisha will continue to fight the sweeping ban preventing Gaza residents from studying at the universities designed for them in the West Bank,” said Prof. Kenneth Mann, Gisha’s Legal Adviser. “We will demand that the military meet the court’s request to create a mechanism for exceptions. The ban violates the right to education, to freedom of occupation, and to freedom of movement, and it is contrary to the joint Israeli-Palestinian interest in allowing Gaza’s young people to build an educated and healthy society.”