Gaza closure threatens 3,000 students’ education rights

Palestinian students’ right to education is hindered by Israel in many ways, including through closure: Palestinian students line up on the first day of the new school year in the West Bank city of Qalqilia, September 2007. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemns the Israeli ban on the travel of Gaza Strip students to pursue studies in universities and schools abroad. The Centre calls upon the international community and international organizations, especially UNESCO and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to pressure Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to allow more than 2,700 students to travel so as to avert the negative consequences on their educational future.

IOF have cut off the Gaza Strip from the outside world since 10 June 2007 by enforcing a complete closure on all the strip’s border crossings, especially Rafah International Crossing on the Egyptian border. As a result, Gaza students studying abroad are deprived the right to travel to pursue their education.

The Centre’s preliminary investigation and information from the Ministry of Civil Affairs indicate that approximately 7,500 Gazans are waiting for the opportunity to travel abroad for various purposes such as work, education, and treatment. Approximately 2,700 students of various educational levels who are studying abroad are among them. The students include 722 students in the graduate and post-graduate levels studying in Arab and international universities. In addition, approximately 2,000 students studying at the basic educational level who spent their summer vacation in the strip with their families are waiting to travel to rejoin their schools.

In the period from 28 August through 18 September 2007, some students were allowed to travel outside the Strip through the Erez-al-Ojeh-Egypt route. During this period, IOF allowed 450 civilians to travel outside the strip in four groups. A fifth group consisting of 186 civilians who were previously approved for travel were returned to Gaza. Since then, IOF refuse to allow any civilian to travel outside the strip.

The Centre’s fieldworkers met several students or their families, who talked about their apprehension over their educational future.

Hammad Abu Sitta from Khan Yunis is studying in Egypt. He informed the Centre’s fieldworker that he is an engineering student at Holwan University in Egypt. He returned to the Gaza Strip on 8 August 2007 to spend his summer vacation with his family for the first time in four years. Abu Sitta was nominated for a training course in Germany starting on 1 September. He went to the Ministry of Civil Affairs and registered for travel to Egypt through Erez-al-Ojeh. He was accepted and slated to travel on 18 September. However, IOF arbitrarily returned the whole group of approved travelers back to Gaza. Since then, he has been attempting to rejoin his university classes, which started on 16 September, but to no avail.

Elham Akram Rajab (29) from Gaza City lives in the Saudi city of Jeddah with her husband and children. She informed the Centre’s fieldworker that she returned to Gaza on 6 June 2007 to spend the summer with her family for the first time in four years. She brought her three children (aged four, seven, and nine) with her. The children missed the start of their school year on 8 September 2007. In addition, her exit visa from Saudi Arabia expires in November, placing her under threat of losing her residency in Saudi Arabia and being cut off from her husband. She went to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, who coordinated her travel with a group of civilians on 11 September 2007. However, IOF returned her group to Gaza and she and her children remain in the strip.

Mohammad Safi (24) is a post-graduate engineering student in Sweden. He informed PCHR’s fieldworker that he received a master’s degree scholarship in KTH College in Stockholm to study engineering. He received his residency permit in Sweden in July 2007, and has been trying to travel since then. The Sweden Embassy attempted to assist in his travel; however, the Israeli side refused to allow him to leave the strip. He went to the Ministry of Civil Affairs to register for travel through al-Ojeh. However, he has been informed that the Israelis have closed the border and do not allow travel.

PCHR condemns IOF for banning Gaza students from traveling to pursue their education abroad. The Centre calls upon the international community and international organizations, especially UNESCO and the ICRC, to pressure IOF to allow more than 2,700 students to travel so as to avert the negative consequences on their educational future. The Centre calls upon the High Contracting Party of the Fourth Geneva Convention to:

  • Seriously pressure IOF to open the Gaza Strip border crossings and to lift the siege and all forms of collective punishment imposed on the Strip’s civilian population.
  • Work immediately to ensure travel for Gaza students studying abroad to enable them to rejoin their schools before this academic year is lost entirely.
  • Pressure IOF to respect the right to education as guaranteed by the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

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