Israel's Education Virus

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinians wearing protective face masks sit at Shifa hospital amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Gaza City November 22, 2020.
Palestinians wearing protective face masks sit at Shifa hospital amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Gaza City November 22, 2020. Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Four male and four female Palestinian students from Gaza pose a health risk to coronavirus-beleaguered Israel. Only thanks to the resolve of the Coordination and Liaison Office, which is preventing them from studying abroad, has Israel been saved from these eight hypothetical super-spreaders of the virus.

Even the fact that the eight will not even set foot in Israel but travel in a closed vehicle straight from the Erez checkpoint on the Gaza border to the Allenby crossing into Jordan, does not placate the coordination office and the body overseeing it, the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. They would not allow these eight to leave the Gaza Strip to pursue their plans to continue their education and improve their professional skills, something that will also benefit their society in the future.

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Yafa (her real name withheld), 28, was accepted into a doctoral program in Spain in economics and business administration. She also received a generous stipend from the European Union but the Rafah crossing into Egypt is closed. The semester began on January 11 and the university has shown understanding, saying that even if she is somewhat late, she’ll be very welcome.

She submitted an application to the Palestinian liaison office in Gaza, to be transferred to the Israeli liaison office, so she could exit through Erez. She was told to first register on an online Jordanian government website called Visit Jordan, to ensure her place among Palestinians crossing into Jordan at the Allenby Bridge on their way overseas. As a health precaution, the daily number of these is limited.

Last Thursday, Yafa managed to register on this busy website. She paid for the required coronavirus test and for her share in disinfecting the vehicle that would take her to the Amman airport. Her turn to cross the border was set for this coming Thursday. She happily went to the Palestinian liaison office, which informed her that the Israeli side was refusing to accept requests such as hers. Due to the panpidemic, Israel has limited and made even more stringent the already strict criteria for passing through Erez. An Israeli source told Haaretz that the requests by these eight students were not received by the Coordination and Liaison Office.

This is an old and well-known method: The Israeli side forbids Palestinian officials to deliver certain types of applications, then arguing that it never received these applications. The spokesman for the office of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories said that the restriction of traffic at the Erez checkpoint is intended to prevent the spread of the virus, and that requests that are not of a medical-humanitarian nature are “studied seriously, based on health and security considerations.”

“I was in shock” said Yafa on the phone, her voice slightly trembling. “I already quit my job and gave up what is considered a good salary in Gaza – $900 – and you know how hard it is to get work here. I tried for two weeks to register for crossing at Allenby Bridge, and now they tell me Israel is not accepting applications such as mine? I could lose the stipend. If I don’t go soon, it will be given to someone else.”

A petition by N., another doctoral student, will be heard in two days by the Jerusalem District Court for administrative affairs. N. was accepted into a pedagogy and education program in Jordan. She did her first semester by remote learning. The second semester begins on January 24, and her physical presence is now mandatory. She applied for an exit permit a long time ago, on November 25, but hasn’t received an answer yet.

It’s the same story with the others. They are accomplished students, with dreams and plans they could pursue at universities in England, Norway, France or Turkey. After submitting applications to the Palestinian liaison office and encountering silence on the Israeli side, they contacted the human rights NGO Gisha, an organization advocating for the freedom of movement of Gaza residents. On January 7, the NGO appealed to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Brig. Gen. Kamil Abu-Rukun, asking him to examine the sweeping prohibition on the exit of students, including the matter of these eight. Neither Abu-Rukun nor any of his aides have deigned to reply.

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