Gazans Basel and Mohammed, both 18, were dreaming of living a better life in the West Bank after they were about to be awarded US-funded scholarships to study there. But their dreams went with the wind after Israel refused to issue them permits.
“I was among the few tens who were selected for the interview, but a month before the study starts, I was informed that the scholarship was cancelled,” said Mohammed in a desperate tone.
The A+ scholarship, run by the AMIDEAST, is being implemented for the first time. It aims to grant the poor students scholarships in either Berzit University of Ramallah or Al-Najjah University of Nablus for four academic years, which means the students will be allowed to study anything except medicine or engineering.
“I applied for the scholarship only to step the financial burden down my father’s shoulder, but I always wanted to stay beside them,” Mohammed, who was planning to study English literature, said.
Israeli Military spokesman Guy Inbar told reporters that this decision is one of the many Israel is taking to weaken Hamas, the Islamist movement that that has been governing the coastal enclave since 2007.
Inbar said that such programs would help export terrorism from the Gaza strip to the West Bank, especially since they have allowed roughly 300 students since 2010.
In a statement, the US said it would replace the Gaza students with others because of the timing and risk of losing funding, hoping to be able to include them in next programs.
Since the Iranian-backed Hamas took over the Gaza strip, and the western-backed Fatah took over the West Bank, Israel has been discriminating between the populations of the two territories.
Gisha, an Israeli NGO defending rights of movement and access for Palestinians with particular focus on Gaza, has followed the case, but nothing could be done to help the students out.
Ayelet Cohen, Gisha spokeswoman, said that since 2000 Israel has prevented Palestinian students from Gaza from traveling to their studies in the West Bank. One of the reasons cited for the ban is that students are a high “risk profile”.
“The ban is sweeping and also applies to individuals against whom there are no security allegations and who receive permits to travel to Israel and to the West Bank under other circumstances,” Cohen carried on.
Mohammed and Basil are yet to find a university where they can pursue their studies. Basil is now looking for another scholarship.
“We already lost hope getting into the West Bank, but we still wish to get a scholarship in one of the Arabic countries.”