Israel is punishing the student population of the Gaza Strip

For the first time since Cabinet decision declaring Gaza "hostile territory", Israeli Supreme Court asked to nullify collective punishment policy:

“Israel is punishing the student population of the Gaza Strip”

Mon., October 22, 2007 – University students in Gaza today petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court against an Israeli policy preventing them from traveling abroad to study. “People dream many dreams,” states the court petition, submitted by Gisha. “One wants to be a pilot, another wants to be a scientist… The petitioners dream of studying.”

Israel is preventing some 670 students from the Gaza Strip from traveling to the USA, Europe, Jordan, Asia and other destinations to pursue higher education. Since the government declared the Gaza Strip “hostile territory,” restrictions on movement to and from Gaza have been further tightened, and a busservice taking students out of Gaza has been canceled. Many of the students “imprisoned” in Gaza have already missed the start of the academic year at universities around the world. Some stand to lose their places for the entire year – and scholarships – if they do not arrive to their campuses immediately.

Wissam Abu Ajwa, 30, one of the seven student petitioners, is now making his fourth attempt to leave Gaza to pursue a degree in environmental studies. In 2001, he was accepted into the program at the Arava Institute in Israel, but was blocked from entering Israel. In 2003, he was accepted into a Master’s program in Germany, but after Israel refused to let him leave the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, he forfeited the opportunity. A year ago he enrolled in a British university, but Israel again blocked his exit by closing the Gaza-Egypt border. For the past four months he has again been waiting for an exit permit to go to the UK. “My dream is to establish a research and study institute in Gaza,” said Abu Ajwa. “Letting us travel abroad to study will not compromise Israel’s security. Israel wants to punish Hamas, but we are the ones who pay the price. What’s it got to do with us?”

“Deliberately preventing people from leaving the Gaza Strip violates the prohibition in international law against collective punishment,"said Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha. "But it is also illogical. Preventing students from reaching their studies won’t stop the Qassam rockets. It only hurts the interest we all share – Israelis and Palestinians – in allowing young people to acquire knowledge.”

Following the Israeli Security Cabinet decision to declare Gaza “hostile territory,” and to restrict movement there, Israel’s military canceled a bus service that had allowed students to leave Gaza via Erez Crossing – despite a promise to the Supreme Court that students would be allowed to travel. The lead student in today’s petition is Khaled Mudallal, whose first court petition was dismissed, based on the state’s promise.