Call to Israel, on Christmas: Let the Students Into Bethlehem!

Sun., December 25, 2005 – four human rights organizations call upon Israel to reconsider the ban on student travel and to let the occupational therapy students into Bethlehem!
Today, Christmas Day, the eyes of the Christian world are turned toward Bethlehem, in hope and prayer. And today, the eyes of ten occupational therapy students from Gaza are turned toward Bethlehem, in the hope and prayer that they will be allowed to reach their studies at Bethlehem University and fulfill their dreams to learn to help vulnerable people in Gaza become more independent.

By the end of 2005, the state of Israel must give its written response to the petitions of these 10 students to receive a permit that will allow them to travel to Bethlehem and complete their studies. Four NGOs – Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Bitona, Our Home for Community Development, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights – call upon Israel to reconsider the ban on student travel and to let the occupational therapy students into Bethlehem!

The ten students have been denied access to their studies at Bethlehem University because of a sweeping ban on travel by students from Gaza seeking to reach their studies in the West Bank. The students’ requests have been denied for the past 2½ years, even though, at least for most of them, Israel does not even allege that they pose a security risk. The ban continues, despite Israel’s commitment to open a link between Gaza and the West Bank. Israel’s High Court will hear the case on January 4.

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. Preventing these students from learning prevents occupational therapy services from being available to the people of Gaza, because in all of Gaza, there is just one certified working occupational therapist and no study program. For that reason, two community groups who need the services of trained occupational therapists — GCMHP and Bitona – have joined the petition, which was submitted by Gisha. Al Mezan has been offering the students legal assistance.

It is not too late for the state to change its mind and to let the students study! On this day of prayers for healing, at the start of the new year, Israel is asked to answer the prayers of these ten students: to allow them to complete their studies and work to heal the people of Gaza.

In the words of Ms. Shayma Alnaji, occupational therapy student: "My only wish is to reach Bethlehem University, to learn from certified therapists … and to concentrate exclusively on my studies."