U.S. Reverses Fulbright Cancellation, Says It Will Work with Israel to Get Fulbright Students Out of Gaza

Gisha welcomes decision to let fulbright students study, calls on Israel to let all students in Gaza exercise their right to access study abroad programs

Sun., June 1, 2008 –  The U.S. Consulate tonight told Fulbright candidates from Gaza that it is restoring funding for the prestigious scholarship program and is "working closely" with the government of Israel to secure permits for the students to leave Gaza in order to attend visa interviews at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and thereafter to leave Gaza for travel to the United States.

According to an e-mail sent Sunday night to Fulbright students by the U.S. Consulate, the Department of State is "working to secure exit permits for you to travel to Jerusalem for your visa interview and for final travel to the United States in order to participate in the Fulbright Program this year. We are working closely with the Government of Israel in order to secure its cooperation in this matter." The e-mail said the scholarship finalization process would now resume.

According to Sari Bashi, director of Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which is advocating on behalf of the students in Gaza: "We welcome the decision to restore Fulbright funding for Gaza students and the news that Israel is expected to allow the students to leave Gaza. Gisha calls on Israel to allow all Palestinian students accepted to universities abroad to exercise their right to leave Gaza and access education, in order to obtain the tools they need to build a better future in the region. That is the message of Secretary of State Rice: that access to education is a right whose realization is good for everyone, Israelis and Palestinians."

The reversal followed a weekend in which Israel came under heavy criticism for banning hundreds of students from leaving Gaza for study abroad, including seven Palestinian students whose Fulbright scholarships to the United States were canceled because Israel wouldn’t let them leave Gaza. Upon learning that Israel would not let the Fulbright students out of Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said she would investigate the matter, noting that "if you cannot engage young people and give them a complete horizon to their expectations and to their dreams, then I don’t know that there would be any future for Palestine." Prime Minister Olmert will travel to the U.S. tomorrow for meetings with Secretary Rice.

Even before the Fulbright debacle, lawmakers on the Knesset Education Committee urged the military last Wednesday to reverse the ban on students leaving Gaza, calling it collective punishment and noting Israel’s interest in letting Palestinian students access education.

Tomorrow, Israel’s Supreme Court will hear two petitions brought by Gisha on behalf of two students seeking to access study abroad programs in Germany and the U.K. The two are among hundreds of students in Gaza that Israel is not allowing to leave for study abroad.