Israel bars Gaza student from travel to U.S. for coexistence program

Civil rights group warns Israel is toughening Palestinian student restrictions on movement.

By Yarden Skop | Haaretz | 24 janvier 2014 |

Israel has rejected the request of a Palestinian living in Gaza to travel to the United States to attend a coexistence program at New York University.

A civil rights group that advocates on behalf of Palestinians says the refusal to issue a permit to the 21-year-old is indicative of a policy shift that is making it more difficult for Palestinian students to study abroad.

Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza said it would not approve the Palestinian student’s travel request because he had failed to secure an official request from the U.S. consulate and had not arranged to be chaperoned to by a consulate official during transit through Israel.

But Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement said such requirements were not enforced in recent years.

“It’s not clear why Israel decided to toughen the restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian academics in general, and in particular that of an outstanding student who received academic recognition from an institution as respectable as NYU, » said Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. « Especially in light of the fact that he was chosen to participate in a program that includes Israeli and Palestinian students who aspire to promote coexistence and reconciliation among the nations. »

In the summer of 2008 Israel decided to condition the exit of students from the Gaza Strip for study abroad on the submission of diplomatic requests for them, as well as consular accompaniment. These conditions were directed only at students, and not at other residents of the Strip who requested transit visas for the purpose of travel abroad. But after the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla affair, in which nine activists trying to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza were killed, Israel stopped enforcing those stipulations, according to monthly government reports by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

As late as September, several Gazan students were permitted to travel to the United States and the United Kingdom, without a diplomatic effort on their behalf.

The liaison office said, however, that it is only enforcing the long-standing policy and that the student failed to comply with the stated requirements.

Smooth sailing, at first

In order to get from the Gaza Strip to New York a Palestinian student must got through Erez Crossing into Israel, board a taxi and travel via Israeli territory to the Allenby Bridge, from which he can get to the airport in Amman, Jordan and board a flight.

At first everything seemed to be going on track for the Palestinian student who was eventually refused. In October, the student submitted a request to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in the Gaza Strip to visit the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for a pre-visa interview. In accordance with the usual procedure, the Palestinian office transferred the request on to the Gaza liaison. Gisha learned of the request and appealed to the Israeli officials to approve the permit in a timely manner so the student could reach the consulate. After the Gaza liaison administration ran a security check on the student, they approved his transit from the Gaza’s Erez Crossing, via Israeli territory, to the consulate in Jerusalem. On November 19th the student arrived at the consulate, passed the interview and received a visa to the United States.

His flight was schedule for January 7, about three weeks before the start of the program.

On December 18 the student once again turned to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee and asked for a permit to allow him to get to the Allenby Bridge. The Palestinian officials passed on the request to the Israelis and, as before, Gisha got involved to help grease the gears. This time, however, the Gaza liaison did not respond on time and the flight date passed. A new date was set: January 14.

Just hours before the flight, Gisha got an answer from the public complaints officer at the Gaza liaison office. Nir Yaron said he was rejected and cited the dual requirements for an official request by the United States and accompaniment by a U.S. consular official.