Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
July 15, 2008 - 12:00am

Washington, DC, July 16 - The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) has joined with six other American organizations to urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to use her good offices to convince Israel to allow hundreds of Palestinian students in Gaza to travel to their universities around the world. The organizations sent a letter to Secretary Rice dated July 15 asking the Administration to help secure travel permission for hundreds of Palestinian students in Gaza who have been accepted in foreign universities but who are not being allowed to leave the territory by Israel.

The other co-signers of the letter are the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Americans for Peace Now, Churches for Middle East Peace, the Arab American Institute, the Israel Policy Forum, and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.

The letter recognizes that Secretary Rice and the United States Government played an important role in securing travel permissions for Palestinian students in Gaza with Fulbright scholarships and other United States educational opportunities. However, the letter notes that hundreds more Palestinian students in Gaza with educational opportunities in foreign universities are still being prevented by Israel from traveling. The letter asks Secretary Rice and the Administration to help these students access the important educational programs to which they have been admitted by merit. It emphasizes that education is crucial to building a future of peace and coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, and that denying travel and education to meritorious and hard-working Palestinian students in Gaza is not in the interests of Israel or the United States.

The full text of the joint letter on Gaza student travel:

July 15, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street N.W
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

As American organizations committed to a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we applaud your efforts to persuade Israel to allow the seven Fulbright scholars who have been confined to Gaza to travel to the United States. We are also grateful for the efforts of our embassy in Israel to enable Gazan awardees of other American scholarships to leave Gaza and to facilitate U.S. visas for them. Your intervention and public comments on the importance of opportunities for both Israelis and Palestinians to study abroad demonstrate American leadership and are very welcome.

Unfortunately, the problem of students and academics who are trapped in Gaza is much larger than the seven Fulbright grantees and five other Gazan students who have scholarships to American universities.

There are also hundreds of other students in Gaza who have valid opportunities to study elsewhere abroad but do not qualify for the narrow category of the few dozen students with "recognized" scholarships for study in "friendly" countries that Israel now says may leave Gaza, following the intervention of the U.S. and other foreign governments.

We strongly urge that the United States broaden its diplomatic efforts in order to persuade Israel to permit the travel of all students whose travel presents no genuine security threat. Students allowed to travel should include not only scholarship awardees admitted to American universities and those of friendly foreign states, but the hundreds of others who have been admitted to foreign universities elsewhere without "recognized" scholarships.

As you said so eloquently on May 30, "If you cannot engage young people and give them a complete horizon to their expectations and to their dreams, then I don't know that there would be any future for Palestine." For Palestinians, like Israelis, education is the most important investment. Peace and a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians will depend on an educated and productive Palestinian community. Israeli policies that foreclose higher studies abroad that are generally unavailable in Gaza not only undermine such a future, but also threaten to destroy hope, the critical antidote to extremism and violence.

As Israel's ally and closest friend and partner in the cause of peace, the United States has a deep and legitimate interest, not only in ensuring that students in Gaza can come to study in our country, but in ensuring that any Gazan student who has earned a place at a foreign university has the opportunity to pursue these studies. The right to do so should not be limited to the few dozen who have "recognized" scholarships.

Members of the Israeli Knesset and Supreme Court, international academics, and leading media around the world, have called on Israel to permit Gazan students to study abroad. For example, Rabbi Michael Melchior, Chairman of the Knesset's Education Committee has said "Trapping hundreds of students in Gaza is both immoral and unwise." Broadening American diplomatic efforts to include all such students would reinforce these appeals. Such U.S. leadership would also resonate positively with the Israeli public, which, according to a recent public opinion survey, believes the closure of Gaza is likely to increase radicalism and support for Hamas. And, it would demonstrate to Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, genuine U.S. concern for the Palestinian people.

Of course, the deprivation of the right of students to travel abroad for education is only one harmful aspect of an Israeli security regime that harshly restricts the movements of a million and a half Gazans, as well as the movement of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. We hope this larger problem is addressed soon and urgently. In the meantime, as the next academic year approaches, there is a special urgency to ensuring that Gazan students who have won by merit and hard work the chance to study abroad do not lose this priceless opportunity.

Yours truly,

Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.
President, Foundation for Middle East Peace
1761 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20036

Debra DeLee
President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now
1101 14th Street NW, Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20005

Ziad al Asali
President, American Task Force for Palestine
815 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20006

Warren Clark
Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace
110 Maryland Avenue NE, #311, Washington, DC 20002

James Zogby
President, Arab American Institute
1600 K Street, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20006

M.J. Rosenberg
Director, Israel Policy Forum, Washington, DC
122 C Street NW, Suite 820, Washington DC 20001

Steve Masters
President, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom,
11 E Adams, Suite 707, Chicago, IL 60603
1761 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20036


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017