In Gaza a scholarship is worth more than just money

Over the past month, Gisha has been inundated with calls from concerned students in Gaza, asking if we can help them travel to their universities abroad via Israel. Since the beginning of July, travel through Rafah Crossing, on the Gaza-Egypt border, has been significantly restricted. Until then, and as a result of access restrictions imposed by Israel on the Strip, Gaza residents had come to rely on Rafah as their main gateway to the world. And for students studying abroad, Rafah was the gateway to their universities.  

One of the students who contacted Gisha is Salah, who had recently been accepted to a Master's degree program at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. Salah contacted Gisha when he realized that disruptions at Rafah might prevent him from travelling to his studies for the start of the semester. Salah has a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) scholarship and, fortunately for him, Israel's foreign relations considerations mean that Gaza students with foreign scholarships are permitted to travel via Israel in order to reach their studies. An urgent letter Gisha sent to the army, asking that Salah be permitted to travel, received a positive response. Salah was able to leave Gaza via the Erez crossing and then travelled to Allenby Bridge where he crossed into Jordan. From there, he made it to England just in time for the first day of classes.

For Mohammed however, travel via Erez was not an option. Mohammed had returned to Gaza for the summer after completing the second year of a business degree at University College Birmingham, also in the UK. Unlike Salah, however, he doesn’t have a scholarship and mostly pays his own way. Mohammed, like many other Gaza students had registered to exit via Rafah, but ongoing disruptions at the crossing and the large numbers of individuals waiting to travel meant that his return to university continued to be delayed as the start of the semester approached. Gisha submitted a request to the Israeli army that he be permitted to travel via Erez but the application was denied on the grounds that Mohammed did not meet the necessary criteria. Mohammed was increasingly worried that being stuck in Gaza was putting his place at university at risk. When he returned home for the summer, he did not imagine that the turmoil in Egypt would lead to the closure of Rafah or that decisions about his academic future would be placed in the hands of Israeli army officials. After a long wait, Mohammed was finally able to leave through Rafah and return to his university. Others have not been so lucky. As of last week, Gisha was aware of about 300 students who had still not managed to travel from Gaza for their studies.

Gisha's position is that the extent of control exercised by Israel over the Gaza Strip, determines the nature of its responsibility toward Gaza residents. Israel continues to control Gaza's airspace and territorial waters. Because of this control, Israel has a responsibility to allow regular travel to and from the Strip. When travel through Rafah Crossing is insufficient, Israel must allow a more significant increase in travel through its crossings, including for students. Gisha continues to advocate on behalf of students who find themselves unable to reach their studies. In July, Gisha along with four other Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations wrote to the Israeli defense minister demanding Israel take action to allow students and other Gaza residents affected by restrictions at Rafah to exit and enter Gaza. Another letter was sent in August but neither letter was answered.