Every year, thousands of willing university students see their dreams dashed and divided like a million stars. Sky-rocketing tuition fees, lack of public support or the obligation to enter the workforce to meet immediate material needs – all prevent them from entering or continuing university studies. On top of that, and throughout history, discrimination and outright denial to access high education has been a constant for minorities and systemically segregated communities across the globe.
On 17 May 1954, in its famous Brown vs Board of Education decision, the United States Supreme Court decided to outlaw racial segregation in public schools – a cornerstone in reversing the systemic oppression that millions of Black Americans have been subject to in the US. Today, 17 May 2021, thousands are still putting up with intrinsic inequity in their quest to access high education.
This is also the case in Gaza where students have to put up with various forms of discrimination. For a start, since 2000, no Palestinian from Gaza can study in Palestinian universities in the West Bank following Israel’s ban aimed at further fragmenting Palestinians after the Second Intifada.
And Gaza’s students do not get to enjoy international mobility either.
Israel’s exit permit consists of an intricate, opaque system of reviews and security clearance processes run by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) – the Israeli military body responsible for administering the occupation and Gaza closure. This is the same system that reviews the claims to exit Gaza for cancer patients, companions to people in need of medical treatment or, in this case, students wishing to study abroad. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, trips for consular services in Israel were included in the very few occasions on which Palestinians in Gaza were allowed out of the Strip. However, the stringent restrictions in place since March 2020 until March 2021 removed this from the list, leaving many stranded, stuck – more than ever – in Gaza.
For Palestinians in Gaza, the distress and continuous sense of uncertainty is only one example of the effects that years of blockade and closure – with Israel’s heavy restrictions to freedom of movement – have had on their right to education. The complete sealing of Gaza since March 2020 with the Covid-19 outbreak has only added more frustrations to those students trying to reach universities abroad to pursue their dreams. Some managed to exit Gaza through the Rafah crossing, that connects the Strip with Egypt. Regularly shut down, this option was only available for some, depending on the host university’s location.
After having completed undergraduate studies in Gaza, many times against all odds and in a collapsing environment, they successfully apply for post-graduate programmes abroad. Once accepted by their university, the odyssey begins. To travel abroad, they need to be delivered student visas by the host countries – to do so, a simple one-hour trip to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem would suffice. However, rights group Gisha reports that at the beginning of 2021, eight students from Gaza were still awaiting their permit to enter Israel for their visa-granting meetings – since early 2020. With months of delay in anxiety, with their graduate programmes already started and their participation definitely at risk, the only avenue for redress was filing legal complaints. In March 2021, one of the students that turned to Gisha for legal aid managed to exit Gaza for their visa appointment.
This is a success story– one of the few out there for Palestinians in Gaza that want to carry out their academic dreams abroad.
For many others however, leaving Gaza to study unjustly remains very limited. Whilst the United States – and the broader education community – might celebrate the end of racial segregation in US schools today, they might find it important to wonder whether Israeli citizens are subject to the same qualms as Palestinians in Gaza to study abroad?
The short answer is no.