Israeli Supreme Court Justices Join Criticism of Gaza Student Ban

In the wake of the Fulbright scholarship restoration, Israeli Supreme Court Justices Joins Criticism of Gaza Student Ban, Asks Military For Clarifications

In oral, nonbinding comments, Justices criticize student ban as harming "chances for some kind of co-existence" between Israelis and Palestinians

Mon., June 2, 2008  – As calls to end the ban on allowing Palestinian students from Gaza to study abroad grew louder, Israeli Supreme Court Justices today orally criticized the military’s blanket refusal to let students leave Gaza and issued decisions asking for clarifications within two weeks. The court’s interim decisions came in response to court petitions submitted by Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, on behalf of two students accepted to universities in Germany and the UK – but denied permission to leave Gaza to reach their studies.

The criticism came a day after Israel relented and said that subject to an individual security check, it would allow seven other students to leave Gaza, in order to reach their studies in the United States, as part of the prestigious U.S.-funded Fulbright program. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had expressed surprise at Israel’s refusal to let the Fulbright students leave, saying 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".

Despite Rice’s comments, and despite calls from lawmakers on the Knesset Education Committee last week urging the military to reverse the ban on students leaving Gaza and calling it collective punishment, the military is still refusing to let hundreds of students in Gaza reach the universities to which they have been accepted abroad. Israel has imposed a blanket closure on the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, imprisoning 1.5 million people in a narrow coastal strip whose borders Israel controls.

Today’s court hearings were held on behalf of Nibal Nayef, 27, who received a full scholarship from the German public foundation DAAD to pursue her doctoral studies in computer engineering at the Technische Universitat Kaiserslautern in Germany and on behalf of Wissam Abuajwa, 31, who received a full scholarship for a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science at Nottingham University in the U.K. Neither degree program is available in Gaza, so study abroad is their only hope.

Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein expressed discomfort with the ban on allowing students from Gaza to study abroad, telling the State Attorney that the ban seems "no less harmful to the Israeli interest, because we have to live with the Palestinians in the future, too". Rubinstein expressed the opinion that preventing students from accessing education "harms chances for some kind of co-existence".

In Nayef’s case, the judges requested clarifications from the state within two weeks on a technical issue, concerning which court has jurisdiction over the case. In Abuajwa’s case, the court noted that the state is reconsidering the policy and asked for an update within 15 days. Both petitions remain pending. The justices asked the state orally, in nonbinding comments, to "reconsider the policy" banning students from leaving Gaza.

According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: "The ban on students leaving Gaza for study abroad is part of a policy of closure and collective punishment that is trapping 1.5 million civilians. I hope that Defense Ministry will listen to the reasoned voices of the U.S. Secretary of State, the Knesset Education Committee, and the Supreme Court – and allow Palestinians in Gaza to exercise their right to freedom of movement and to access education."

According to Wissam Abuajwa, the Master’s student: "Universities in Gaza don’t have a track for environmental studies, and my dream is to return from my studies abroad and to establish an environmental research and study institute here. In Gaza there is an urgent need for environmental experts, especially because of the recent deterioration in the infrastructure and quality of life of the residents."

According to Nibal Nayef, the doctoral student, "My classes have already begun while I’m still stuck here in Gaza, unable to attend them. It’s so important to me to reach my studies as soon as possible."

Gisha has documented the effects of the closure on students in Gaza in a forthcoming report, Held Back: Students Trapped in Gaza.