3 Fulbright Winners in Gaza Again Told They Can’t Travel
“JERUSALEM — The State Department has, for a second time in two months, reneged on its offer to three Palestinians in Gaza to study in the United States on Fulbright grants, this time citing unspecified security concerns.
The three were part of a group of seven Fulbright winners whose grants were first withdrawn at the end of May when the State Department feared it would be unable to get them out of Gaza because of Israel’s closing of the coastal strip, which the Israelis say is aimed at isolating the Hamas leadership there.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rica heard about the withdrawals, she declared Fulbright grants to be an important part of American foreign policy and the scholarships were reinstated. The students needed to undergo individual Israeli security checks in order to leave Gaza and travel first to the American Consulate in Jerusalem for a visa interview and then to fly out.
Four of the seven were cleared but three were told by Israel that they were security risks and could not enter the country. Skeptical American officials asked for details but said they only got broad accusations of links to Hamas; the officials still wanted to offer the grants. The consulate brought from Washington high-priced mobile fingerprinting equipment and sent several officials to the Israel-Gaza border to interview the three Palestinians on July 10.
Three weeks later, on July 30, all three were informed that they had cleared the security screening and were granted their visas.
Two days later, the visas were revoked although not before Israel allowed one of the grantees, Fidaa Abed, to leave Gaza to fly to Washington unaware of his changed status. He was informed at the airport that his visa was no longer valid, flown back to Amman, Jordan, and instructed to return to Gaza. He remains in Amman.
On Monday, the American Consulate in Jerusalem sent letters to Mr. Abed and the two other grantees still in Gaza saying ‘information has come to light that you may be inadmissible to the United States,’ and therefore their visas were being revoked. In Washington, Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, declined to get into specifics, but said that the visas were revoked because ‘we got more information’ about the grantees.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Ms. Rice was very unhappy about how these cases had been handled and that a thorough review had been ordered to prevent a recurrence. The official added that the latest information about the three Palestinians was enough to give pause but that ‘we really have to scrub it and are now going to take a good look to see if it holds.’
Israeli officials, who had insisted that the three posed a risk, expressed satisfaction that their message had gotten through.
A senior Israeli official said that after the United States had granted the visas, ‘the process of Israeli-American contacts on the matter did not cease, and more specific information was provided.’
Of the four Gaza Fulbright winners who were permitted to leave, three are in the United States already; one dropped out of the program the night before her departure because she did not want to give up her current lectureship in Gaza.
Ha’aretz: Why did the U.S. turn away Gaza Fulbright scholars?
“WASHINGTON – ‘This is one of the oddest things we have encountered in recent years,’ an Israeli official said of a long sequence of events that began with intense American pressure to allow two young Palestinian students to leave Gaza to study in the United States and ended with the U.S. barring their entry and canceling the visas it had granted them.
It all started around two and a half months ago, when Israel turned down an American request to allow seven Palestinian academics, who had received scholarships sponsored by the State Department, to leave the Gaza Strip to attend a visa interview that would enable them to leave for the U.S. The whole matter turned into a mini-crisis between the State Department and Israel’s Foreign Ministry. At its height, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contacted Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with a request to allow the students’ departure…”
–Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz, July 6, 2008
And, from the Electronic Intifada,
Gaza students still waiting and losing hope
“These days Rami Abdo’s duties include gardening, teaching and caring for his 10-year-old nephew. Abdo, a 30-year-old student from Gaza City, is still waiting along with hundreds of others to attend universities abroad. Yet, their waiting has lasted for more than a year now as Israel has closed all of Gaza’s border crossings…”
–Rami Almeghari Live from Palestine, 28 July, 2008