Israel Allows Four Fulbright Students to leave Gaza for Visa Interviews at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem

Three other Fulbright Students Still Not Approved to Leave

Gisha: Israel Should Let all Students in Gaza Exercise their Right to Access Education

Wed., June 4, 2008 –  In the wake of growing criticism over a policy banning all students from Gaza from studying abroad, the Israeli military today allowed four students from Gaza awarded Fulbright scholarships to leave Gaza in order to attend visa interviews at the U.S. Consulate in east Jerusalem. The students are to return to Gaza later today to await visa finalization.

Israel permitted the four to travel following heavy criticism of its policy banning hundreds of students from leaving Gaza in order to access study abroad, including seven students whose prestigious U.S.-funded Fulbright scholarships were revoked after Israel refused to grant them permission to leave Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza 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".

The U.S. reinstated the scholarships on Sunday, after Israel agreed to let the students go, subject to an individual security check. As of this afternoon (13:30), one Fulbright student is still waiting on the Palestinian side of Erez Crossing for security clearance to leave, and the two other Fulbright students have not yet received preliminary permission to leave. All seven students will need Israeli permission to leave Gaza for travel to the U.S. this summer, likely in August.

Israel has said it is reconsidering the policy banning hundreds of students from Gaza from accessing study 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. Last year, hundreds of students lost their places in universities abroad because of the closure, and currently hundreds more are at risk of losing their opportunities– if the ban is not reversed.

On Monday, Israeli Supreme Court Justices expressed criticism of the ban in the context of court petitions filed by Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, on behalf of two students who are still trapped in Gaza. Those court petitions are pending.

According to Sari Bashi, Executive Director of Gisha: "It would be a tragic misunderstanding of Secretary of State Rice’s comments regarding the importance of the right to access education, if Israel were to let just a few Fulbright students out – but prevent hundreds of others in Gaza from reaching their universities abroad".