Gisha report reveals: Israel Uses Diplomats as “Security Guards” in Gaza Exit

• New Israeli demand requires diplomats to personally escort Palestinian students from Erez Checkpoint to Allenby Crossing;

• Israel restricts exit of students, even if they are escorted;

• Only a few of the more than 1,000 students seeking to leave Gaza each year are permitted to reach their studies;

• Only in Israel are diplomatic representatives required to protect the security of the "host" state – rather than vice versa.

Mon., June 29, 2009 – Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement published a new report today on the restrictions Israel imposes on the exit of students from Gaza, including a new requirement that they be escorted by diplomats. The report, "Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit from Gaza," reveals how Israel passes responsibility for the exit of Palestinian students from Gaza to foreign delegations, turning diplomats into gatekeepers of the closure of Gaza and security guards for Israel.

Since the summer of 2008, Israel has made the exit of students from Gaza for study abroad conditional on a diplomat escort, including submitting requests to the army and transporting students from the Erez Checkpoint to the Allenby Crossing. Furthermore, Israel also requires diplomatic escort for students wishing to travel to consular offices in east Jerusalem or Ramallah to obtain entry visas to their countries of destination. The purpose of this new Israeli demand is not at all clear, because Israel requires the escort only for students (as opposed to others), and, more importantly, because every request by a Palestinian student to travel through Israel is examined meticulously by Israeli security officials. Therefore, a student who has permission from Israel to travel through its territory has already received security approval by the Israel Security Agency.

Every year more than 1,000 Palestinian students seek to leave Gaza for university studies abroad. But only a few of them are able to leave because of the restrictions, according to which Israel only lets out students who receive a "recognized" scholarship to a country that has diplomatic relations with Israel and therefore can escort them. The possibility of leaving Gaza through Rafah Crossing is also limited because the crossing is closed most of the time.

Mr. Wesam Kuhail was admitted to an MBA program at the University of Northern Virginia in the U.S. but missed the previous academic year because of the restrictions: "I still hope in the end I will manage to get to the university in the U.S. I realized that getting to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is almost impossible, as is leaving Gaza through Rafah Crossing."

The foreign delegations invest precious time and resources, estimated at tens of thousands of dollars a year, in the coordination and escorting. That is why the U.S. State Department announced it could only provide escort to the few students who receive U.S. government scholarships.

Besides wasting hours of their time at the Erez Checkpoint, the diplomats are required to sign a "commitment" in which they promise to make sure the students go straight to the Allenby Crossing. "What exactly does Israel expect a diplomat or consular official to do, should a security threat materialize?" asks the report. "The very idea of diplomats, who carry no weapons and have no military training, chasing after ‘security threats’ inside Israeli territory or the West Bank is ridiculous."

Gisha calls on Israel to cancel the restrictions immediately, including the demand for diplomatic escort, and to allow all students from Gaza to reach their studies abroad, subject only to an individual security check. Gisha calls on foreign delegations to act vigorously to cancel the restrictions, including the demand for diplomatic escort.