Israel High Court Orders State to Explain Ban on Gaza Students Studying in West Bank Universities

January 4, 2006 – Israel’s High Court ordered the state to explain why it bans students from Gaza from studying in West Bank universities. The court ordered the state to do so at a hearing on petitions brought by 10 occupational therapy students seeking to study at Bethlehem University.

The prohibition has forced these 10 students to learn occupational therapy "by remote control" – through video broadcasts, Internet correspondence, and foreign lecturers flown into Gaza. The ban continues to apply, despite Israel’s commitment to allow passage between Gaza and the West Bank. Two Palestinian nonprofit organizations – both of whom need the services of trained occupational therapists for their care of the community in Gaza – joined the petition: Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and Bitona for Community Development. Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement submitted the petitions.

The students’ requests to cross to Bethlehem have been rejected since 2003, despite the fact that, regarding most of them, the army does not even claim that there is any specific security threat at all. Banning their travel means banning their studies, because in the Gaza Strip, there is no program for certifying occupational therapists. The ban also means that occupational therapy services will not be available to the civilian population in Gaza, because in the entire Strip, there is only one certified working occupational therapist.

The army refuses to allow travel by students, despite Israel’s commitment to an agreement to allow bus convoys from Gaza to the West Bank, an agreement whose implementation is the subject of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations brokered by "Quartet" Special Envoy James Wolfensohn. In meetings with representatives of Gisha, Quartet representatives expressed interest in efforts that contribute to capacity-building and economic development within Palestinian society.

At the hearing today (4.1.06), the state requested time to determine its position on the ban.

In the words of Mohammed Abu Riala, Student-Petitioner: "All I want is to reach the campus in Bethlehem and to be a student in the full sense of the word."

Knesset Member Roman Bronfman wrote to the Defense Minister asking that the students be allowed to study, as have 130 occupational therapy students and therapists in Israel. Bethlehem University and the Norwegian Occupational Therapy Association, both of whom sponsor the occupational therapy program, as well as Mezan Center for Human Rights, join the call that the students be permitted to reach their studies.

The petitions were written by Professor Kenneth Mann, Chair of Gisha’s board, and Sari Bashi, Gisha’s Director.