Supreme Court to Hear Petitions from Two Students Seeking to Leave Gaza

Sun., June 1, 2008 – Israel’s Supreme Court will hear petitions tomorrow (Monday, June 2) from two students trapped in Gaza and unable to reach their studies in the U.K. and in Germany. The petitions will be argued by Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which has been advocating to allow Palestinian students from Gaza to reach their studies. The first hearing is scheduled for 9 am.

The scheduled hearings follow 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.

A military spokesman has told reporters that Israel will reconsider the policy banning students from leaving Gaza for study abroad. Tomorrow’s hearings will be the first test of the willingness of Israel’s military to reconsider the ban on allowing Gaza students to study abroad.

The students whose petitions will be heard tomorrow are Wissam Abuajwa, 31, who has a full scholarship for a Master’s program in Environmental Science at Nottingham University in the U.K. and Nibal Nayef, 27, who has a full scholarship from the publicly-funded German foundation DAAD to study a doctorate in Computer Engineering at the Technische Universitat Kaiserslautern in Germany. Israel has refused to let the students leave, saying exit from Gaza will be permitted in urgent humanitarian cases only.

Abuajwa and Nayef are just two of the hundreds of Gaza residents unable to reach their studies abroad due to the closure which Israel has imposed on Gaza since June 2007. Gisha has documented the effects of the closure on students in Gaza in a forthcoming report, Held Back: Students Trapped in Gaza.