Lana (real name withheld), a thirty-year-old woman from Gaza, wants to pursue a degree in gender studies. She completed her undergraduate degree in communications and Arabic language at Al Azhar University in the Strip a few years ago, and she is now a human rights activist and a radio presenter.

A year after finishing her undergraduate degree, Lana took an intensive training course offered by a civil society organization in Gaza on advocating for the rights of underprivileged groups, particularly women. Lana credits the course as “the starting point of who I am today. It helped me explore my identity and gave me belief in human rights, especially women’s rights in Palestine. I gained knowledge about different issues that affect us as Palestinian women. I started following human rights violations against women and refugees and started writing about these issues and covering them on the radio.”

As a Palestinian living in Gaza, Lana contends with political, security-related and economic adversity, endured by all women in the Strip. In recent years, as she grappled with everyday challenges, Lana’s work inspired her to seek out academic and professional opportunities. After some deliberation, she decided she wanted to pursue an M.A. in gender studies.

She started looking for a gender studies program, but none are offered in Gaza universities. Lana was happy to find that Bir Zeit University, in the West Bank, offered just the program she had dreamed of. “I didn’t even contemplate the possibility that Israel wouldn’t let me study there, I just enrolled and focused on getting accepted to the university,” Lana says. “I even paid tuition and obtained proof of vaccination, preparing to travel.” It wasn’t until Lana contacted the Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Ministry that she discovered, to her dismay, that she could not file an application to travel to the West Bank. Since 2000, Israel has banned students from Gaza from studying at West Bank universities, just a short car ride away from their homes.

This Israeli policy presents an arbitrary, harmful obstacle to young Palestinian women like Lana. “Why can’t a woman from Gaza study or live in the West Bank when it’s all one Palestinian land?” she asks. Lana contacted human rights organizations only to learn there are no exceptions to Israel’s blanket ban on student travel between the West Bank and Gaza. Having no other choice, she postponed her studies. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to realize my dream of studying gender,” she says.

“I hope that this year, we’ll live to see a better reality for women, and that peace will prevail,” Lana says. “We can see that in all the crises in the world, whether it’s the coronavirus crisis or the war now in Ukraine, it is women who suffer the most. Women in Palestine, and especially in Gaza, face hardships created by the Israeli blockade on the Strip, which has had serious economic, social and psychological repercussions for the Palestinian people, particularly women. I hope that women’s situation can improve and that we’ll be able to exercise our rights fully and live in freedom, without obstacles of any kind.”