Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian
July 1, 2010 - 12:00am

A 29-year-old lawyer from Gaza has launched a legal challenge against Israel's refusal to allow her to travel to the West Bank to study human rights and democracy.

Fatima Sharif must register for her masters degree at Birzeit University near Ramallah in two weeks' time or she will lose her place.

The Israeli authorities have denied her permission to leave Gaza on the grounds that she does not meet Israel's criteria of "humanitarian and exceptional" need.

Sharif, who has been working in the field of human rights law for the past five years, said she wanted to deepen her knowledge and understanding of her chosen field. There is no relevant course in Gaza.

She plans to return to Gaza at the end of her studies. "I want to raise awareness about human rights within the society of Gaza," she said. "I firmly believe that every person has rights that they must be made aware of."

A petition against the decision was lodged yesterday at Israel's high court of justice on Sharif's behalf by Gisha, an Israeli human rights organisation, which said Israel had no security concerns about the lawyer.

Israel should take into account "the welcome use she intends to make of the tools that she will acquire during her studies when she returns to the Gaza Strip after graduation", said Nomi Heger of Gisha.

Israel banned Gazans from studying at West Bank universities in 2000 when violent resistance against the occupation broke out in the Palestinian territories.

A high court ruling in 2007 said Israel should consider allowing exceptions in "cases that would have positive human consequences".

Since then, Gisha says it has no knowledge of any student from Gaza being granted a permit to travel through Israel to study in the West Bank.


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