Mel Frykberg
The Middle East Times
February 7, 2008 - 7:23pm

The future of hundreds of Gazan students, trapped in el-Arish in the Egyptian Sinai and in the Gaza Strip, hangs in the balance as they wait in a state of uncertainty for permission to leave Egypt and Gaza to continue their studies abroad.

Last year the Israeli human rights organization Gisha petitioned the Israel Supreme Court on behalf of 670 Gazan students with foreign citizenship, residency, or study permits, who wanted to leave the Gaza Strip to resume their scholarships and higher education studies, either in Arab countries or in Europe and the United States, but were prevented by the Israelis on grounds of security.

The court ruled against the petition after Israeli authorities responded that shuttle services would be provided for the students, Gisha spokesperson Sari Bashi told the Middle East Times. However, to date none have been provided. So Gisha has filed a second petition before the court pending.

At the end of last year, Human Rights Watch released a sharply critical statement.

"The Israeli government is arbitrarily blocking some 670 students in Gaza from pursuing higher education abroad. Israel is denying exit permits that the young men and women need to leave Gaza for university programs in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Britain, and the United States," stated HRW from New York.

"Israel seems determined to punish all Gazans, including students, for the behavior of Hamas," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW's Middle East division. "Israel should not make young people seeking education pay the price for its conflict with a political or military group."

These are part of a larger group of more than 6,000 Gazan students with foreign citizenship, permanent residency, work permits, student visas or university admissions abroad, who have been trapped in Gaza since June, when Hamas took control of the territory by force.

One of the students, whose case made international headlines and on whose behalf Gisha filed its petition, is 22-year-old Khaled al-Mudallal. Mudallal, who is studying for his bachelor's degree at the Bradford School of Management in the United Kingdom, returned to Gaza in June to visit his family but was refused permission to leave to return to the U.K.

"It's a disaster for me. If I cannot take the exams I may have to take another year, and I don't know whether the university will let me do that," Mudallal told the British daily Independent.

Exacerbating the situation of the students is the fact that universities in Gaza do not offer degrees in a variety of subjects, including undergraduate degrees in languages other than Arabic, English, and French, and master's degrees in law, journalism, and information technology. Doctoral degrees are not offered at all in Gaza or the West Bank. Additionally Israel forbids Gazans from studying in the West Bank anyway.

But Gaza's entrapped citizenry got a break, literally, from their predicament last week when Hamas managed to breach the Rafah border with Egypt with explosives. Hundreds of Gazans took advantage to escape the massive human cage which Gaza has become with approximately 1.5 million people squashed into an area 25 miles long by 7 miles wide.

Many left to buy essential provisions such as food and other necessities, others left for a taste of a few days of freedom. A number of students also managed to flee and got as far as the Egyptian resort of el-Arish where they were prevented from traveling further by Egyptian security officials. After much bureaucratic wrangling and political maneuvering some were granted permission to fly out of Egypt to resume their studies.

"We don't know the exact number of students still trapped in el-Arish and Gaza," Bashi told the Middle East Times. "We should have a better idea in the near future as we await the outcome of the second petition before the court."

However, among those who fled to the Egyptian side were a number of armed Palestinian militants who have threatened to carry out reprisal attacks against Israel following the Jewish state's ongoing military raids into Gaza which have left scores of Palestinians dead in the last few months.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel had earlier reached an interim agreement proposing the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of Gaza as an alternative exit to Rafah, but Hamas' disapproval and its rocketing of Kerem Shalom helped to scupper that plan.


While Israel has legitimate security concerns, the Israeli authorities have, in some instances, given students exit permits only to refuse their departure from the Gaza Strip via the passenger terminals at Erez, again citing "security" reasons.

Under international humanitarian law, Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza even though it withdrew its permanent military forces and settlers in 2005, because it continues to control the territory's electricity, water, sewage capacity, its telecommunications networks and population registry.

Israel signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, which applies in Israel and wherever Israeli officials have "effective control." Prohibiting students from traveling abroad to study constitutes an arbitrary and unlawful infringement on the right to freedom of movement.

This includes the right to leave one's own country, guaranteed in article 12 of the ICCPR.

And while restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons is permitted, it is only permissible on clear legal grounds, must be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat.


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