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US Joins Israel in Blockading Education to Students in Gaza

As another international activist ship is on the high seas to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, the United States government has joined with Israel to blockade higher education opportunities for students in Gaza and the West Bank.In this Oct. 11, 2012 photo, Palestinian student Amal Ashour, 18, poses for a portrait with schoolbooks at her family house in Gaza City. Ashour had planned to study English literature this fall at a university in the West Bank through a U.S.-sponsored program, but was recently informed the scholarship was no longer available for Gaza students. Under Israeli pressure, U.S. officials have quietly canceled a two-year-old scholarship program for students in the Gaza Strip, undercutting a program that American diplomats say has been key in providing needed educational opportunities for students in the Palestinian territories. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Rather than leveraging the large military and economic aid the United States gives the Israeli government each year for the right of Palestinians to accept scholarships and to travel to universities in the West Bank and to universities in other countries, the United States has, with minimal publicity, cancelled 30 scholarships to high school seniors in Gaza and the West Bank.

Two years after the scholarship program was begun in 2010 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem stated that it would not grant the scholarships after Israel said it would not permit students to travel. "Because of the timing and risk of losing funding, available scholarships were awarded to other applicants," it said. "We hope to include Gazan students in future programs."

Israel bans most Gazans from traveling to Israel or the West Bank. Israeli officials claim that West Bank universities are breeding grounds for militant groups like Hamas.

If the joint US-Israeli government decisions to prevent students in Gaza from the opportunities for higher education weren’t bad enough, last year, Hamas barred seven high school students from traveling to the United States for a year of study under a US program, citing worries over their supervision.

One student in Gaza who had been able to accept a scholarship in the United States in years past said, “When I studied in the America, I loved how you could travel from state to state without any borders. You live your life. I can’t leave Gaza. Everyone—Hamas, Israel, everyone—is controlling us.”

In September, 2012, Israel's Supreme Court upheld the travel ban on students.

Please contact the US Department of State 202-647-4000 and the Agency for International Development 202-712-4320 (ask for the Israel desk at both) if you feel the United States should end its blockade of scholarships for students from Gaza and the West Bank and end its $3 billion annual military payment to the Israeli government.