Israel’s travel ban harms ‘entire generations’
By Peter Bray
Last month’s decision by the U.S. Congress to block hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians because of the push for statehood at the United Nations will mean more hardship for Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.
And while Palestinians have not won statehood state yet, and there is no agreement about what steps should be taken in order to create it, almost everyone can agree that laying the foundations for statehood — shaping democratic values, building functioning institutions and a functioning economy, and investing in education — will reap benefits for both Palestinians and their neighbors in Israel and around the globe.
Which makes it all the more tragic that, while thousands of young Americans return to school this fall to continue or begin their higher education, many Palestinian students are unable to do so because of Israeli policies that severely restrict their freedom of movement. As the Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university serving students from the occupied Palestinian territories, I have the honor to be involved in a process of building a better future in this region. Since its founding in 1973, Bethlehem University has granted degrees and diplomas to more than 12,000 graduates from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
Unfortunately, since the year 2000, Israel has not allowed students from Gaza to enter the West Bank to study at any Palestinian university. This includes the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University in the Latin Patriarchate, which offers degrees in vital fields that are not available in universities in Gaza. Bethlehem University has been creative in making some programs available at a distance to students in Gaza and some students have benefited from these.
However, these adjusted programs are not what are best for the students or for the future of Palestinian society and Israel. A university education is about much more than the classroom transmission of knowledge. It is also about being exposed to new ideas, people, and places, discovering knowledge and truth, engaging in research, and participating in campus life.
In 2006, a group of ten young people from Gaza wanted to study occupational therapy, as there is a great need for this service in their society. Because the program is not offered at any university in Gaza they chose Bethlehem University. They enrolled and sought permission to travel to Bethlehem, which was a challenge to the Israeli-imposed restriction on travel for Palestinians. Permission was denied.
Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, took this matter to Israel’s Supreme Court on behalf of the students. The court ruled that individual security checks were not good enough because young people are part of a “high-risk group.” Israeli officials saw these ten promising students as prospective threats instead of the potential positive contributors to Palestinian society that they are.
Since 2006, a few more students from Gaza have been accepted by Bethlehem University, but each year Israel has denied them permission to come study. Sadly, for the current academic year, no Gazans have applied because they see no chance of overcoming the travel ban, and so have either resigned themselves to staying in Gaza or to studying abroad. The travel ban on students is one of the most tangible examples of how ordinary Palestinians and Palestinian society suffer from Israeli policies that seem temporary but actually harm entire generations. These restrictive realities beg the question: What kind of state building can be envisioned under these circumstances? It also causes me to wonder what the state of Israel stands to gain or lose by preventing these young people, who are their neighbors, from accessing educational opportunities. Whether a Palestinian state is created or negotiated this year or next, or ten years from now, should not have any bearing on our ability to invest in our most valued assets and our best hope for the future — our young people and their education.
Peter Bray is vice chancellor of the Bethlehem University in the Holy Land.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/16/2454501/israels-travel-ban-harms-entire.html#ixzz1b7t4kYF1