Instead of Beginning his Studies Today at the University of Northern Virginia, Wesam is still Trapped in the Gaza Strip

The brief opening of Rafah Crossing allowed a few dozens to leave Gaza for study abroad, but hundreds of others remain trapped.

Wed., September 24, 2008 – “This morning I was supposed to begin my Master’s studies at the University of Northern Virginia. But the closure of Gaza is preventing me from even reaching the U.S. consulate for an interview to request a student visa, without which I cannot enter the United States.” This is the story of Wesam Kuhail, 27, an MBA student trapped in Gaza.

The weekend’s brief opening of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt was of no help to Mr. Kuhail, because Israel refuses to allow him to travel to the U.S. Consulate in east Jerusalem to undergo a visa interview. Mr. Kuhail is one of hundreds of students denied the right to reach their studies abroad.

On September 20-21, just 60 students and their family members were able to cross into Egypt and continue to the foreign universities in which they are enrolled. In all, 2,000 people were permitted to leave, including approximately 1,100 pilgrims traveling to Mecca and 220 medical patients.

The Rafah Crossing has been closed to regular traffic since June 9, 2007, and Israel refuses to allow its reopening in accordance with the U.S.-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access designed to allow regular travel. In the last months, the crossing has opened on just a few occasions for humanitarian reasons, outside the framework of the agreement, in order to “release pressure”. But this limited "relief" is woefully inadequate for the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip denied their basic right to freedom of movement.
Murad Bahlool, a 22-year-old student seeking to reach an MBA program in Project Management in Malaysia, was supposed to begin his studies on July 1, 2008. “I left my house at 4 am on Sunday following an announcement that a temporary opening of the crossing was planned and that students would be allowed to leave,” Mr. Bahlool said. “We waited all day in intense heat, sitting inside buses with no air conditioning, although we were fasting for Ramadan. At 4 am on Monday we were told to go back home.I returned exhausted, physically but mostly mentally, since I don’t know if I am ever going to be able to leave Gaza and start my studies.”

In July 2008, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement asked the Israeli military to allow Mr. Bahlool to leave, but Israel refuses to allow students from Gaza to travel overseas to study, as part of a government decision to restrict movement to and from Gaza – a policy that amounts to collective punishment.
According to Sari Bashi, Executive Director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement: “Denying 1.5 million Gaza residents – including hundreds of students – the basic right to freedom of movement is intolerable. The State of Israel, which controls the Gaza Strip’s borders and continues to oppose the regular opening of Rafah Crossing, is obligated to permit Gaza residents to enter and leave the Strip.”