Students from Gaza blocked for travel to studies abroad

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January 14, 2020. Some 450 academic faculty members in Israel have already signed a petition (Hebrew) calling the Israeli government and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to take immediate action to allow students from Gaza to exit the Strip in order to reach their academic institutions abroad. The petition was initiated and drafted by members of Gisha’s board, against the backdrop of Israel’s ongoing prohibition on almost all travel via Erez Crossing.

Since March 2020, Israeli authorities have agreed to process permit applications in even fewer, rarer circumstances than before, only allowing a small number of patients in need of urgent medical treatment and their companions, and a handful of others, to exit the Strip. Among the people impacted by this continued lockdown at Erez are students, including post-graduate students with lucrative scholarships, enrolled at academic institutions abroad requiring in–person attendance. Before the closure was tightened further in March, students in this situation met Israel’s narrow criteria for travel, one of few exceptions to the sweeping restrictions on movement it enforced well before the pandemic. Rafah Crossing is completely closed.

The academics’ petition states that: “Access to quality higher education is essential in every society. […] We believe that preventing students from Gaza from exiting the Strip because of the coronavirus pandemic, without any security justification, for such a prolonged and indefinite period of time is a wrongful, immoral policy.”

On January 7, Gisha sent a letter (Hebrew) on this matter to COGAT, listing the names of eight students who requested urgent assistance from Gisha. The students are all required to arrive at their campuses in January. This week, Gisha also submitted a petition (Hebrew) to the Jerusalem District Court on behalf of a PhD student who needs to exit the Strip to continue her studies in Jordan. A hearing on her case has been scheduled for next week.


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Israel must allow Gaza students to travel abroad

To the Government of Israel,

According to information received from the human rights organization Gisha, it has come to our attention that since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Israel has blocked Palestinian students from Gaza from exiting the Strip via Erez Crossing to reach academic studies abroad. As faculty members at academic institutions around the world, we strongly oppose this infringement on students’ fundamental rights. We call on the Government of Israel to take immediate action to allow students to exit Gaza via Erez Crossing.

Access to education is a fundamental human right. Access to higher education, in all academic fields, is a prerequisite for young people to develop personal and professional skills, expand their horizons, and realize their personal ambitions.

Access to academic studies is crucial for any society. In Gaza, where opportunities for studying specific subjects and degrees are limited, in part due to Israeli movement restrictions, students’ access to academic training outside the Strip is absolutely vital so that they can learn and receive training in the field of their choice.

Israel is aware of the limited nature of degrees offered in Gaza and, prior to March 2020, allowed some students from Gaza to exit the Strip via Erez Crossing, one of the few exceptions to sweeping restrictions on travel applied by Israel on Gaza residents more broadly. At the moment, Rafah Crossing with Egypt is closed. Egypt should also allow access, but given the closure of the crossing and Israel’s heightened obligations to Gaza residents arising from its effective control over the Strip, Israel must allow travel via its own territory.
We believe that blocking the exit of students from Gaza abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic in such a far-reaching, indefinite manner is unlawful and unjust. Pandemic-related restrictions on movement have impacted the global academic community, faculty and students alike. A sweeping ban on travel, without consideration for the specific circumstances of individual students and particularly considering needs in Gaza, goes too far. We call on the Government of Israel to take immediate action to allow students to exit Gaza through Erez Crossing, so that they can realize their right to receive higher education at academic institutions around the world.

Sign the petition here