US scholarships canceled for 8 Gaza students

The US state department has withdrawn its highly-coveted Fulbright scholarships awarded to seven Palestinian students from Gaza because Israel did not give them permission to leave the small strip of land.

US scholarships canceled for 8 Gaza students
The students were told in a letter from the US consulate general in Jerusalem, dated Thursday, that the state department "will not be able to finalize your Fulbright Student Scholarship for 2008".

No explanation was given, but the students were told to apply again next year when they would be given "priority consideration" but no guarantee that the scholarship would be awarded again.

Tom Casey, a state department spokesman, said the scholarships would instead be given to Palestinians from the West Bank, who can travel abroad more easily.

"The issue was that they could not get visas, so the decision was made to transfer the Fulbrights to the West Bank rather than lose them for this year," Casey said.

Since the Islamist movement Hamas won parliamentary elections more than two years ago, Israel has put Gaza under a tightening blockade.

It has severely restricted the number of Gazans it allows into Israel as part of a broad closure policy.

Hadeel Abukwaik, 23, won a Fulbright to study for a masters degree in software engineering after graduating last summer from al-Azhar University in Gaza City. "I am asking myself, what did I do wrong? Is it my fault to be here in Gaza?" she said. "I am wondering, is it better for our neighbours, and for our neighbour Israel, to have an educated neighbour or to have an angry neighbour?"

Abdulrahman Abdullah, 29, won a Fulbright to study for an MBA in one of four American universities. He said he had spent several years preparing for the scholarship since graduating in finance and accounting from Bir Zeit University in Ramallah in the West Bank.

"If we are going to have a Palestinian state, then who is going to build this state and help in the development of the Palestinian community?" he said.

"Education is a humanitarian issue and has nothing to do with Hamas or any other party."

Former Fulbright scholar Sari Bashi, the head of the Israeli human rights group Gisha, which has brought court petitions on this issue, said: "The fact that the US government cannot even get its Fulbright students out of Gaza demonstrates the arbitrariness and short-sightedness of the closure policy - led by Israel but supported by the US and Western allies - that has trapped 1.5million people, including hundreds of Palestinian students seeking to study abroad."

The education committee at the Israeli parliament held hearings this week into the issue of the several hundred Gazan students who were unable to travel abroad to study.

Military officials said permission was given for Palestinians to leave Gaza "for exceptional humanitarian and urgent medical cases only."


Güncelleme Tarihi: 31 Mayıs 2008, 09:53