Three weeks ago, the Israeli government outlined a new policy that sought to “keep out of Gaza weapons and war-supporting material that Hamas uses” while allowing “all other goods” in. Specific details emerged July 4 in a statement from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Although the Obama administration “welcomed” the “easing” of the siege on Gaza, many critics (including myself, here) have derided the announced changes as nothing more than window-dressing and a continuation of the crushing blockade of Gaza. An excellent story by Israeli journalist Amira Hass about a Gazan student wanting to study human rights in the West Bank provides a deeply troubling look at what the blockade means to individual people in Gaza, and how there really has been no improvement in the Gaza Strip’s situation since Israel’s announcements on “easing” the siege.
The day after Barack Obama praised Benjamin Netanyahu for easing the blockade of Gaza, the High Court of Justice supported the state’s position that a lawyer from the Gaza Strip should not be allowed to leave it so she can study for a master’s degree in human rights at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Justices Miriam Naor, Hanan Melcer and Isaac Amit wrote in a ruling they handed down on Wednesday, in the case of 29-year-old Fatma Sharif: “We are not convinced that under the present political and security situation, the personal circumstances [of the petitioner] justify intervention in the decision of the respondent [the defense minister].”
Since 2000, Israel has imposed a comprehensive ban on Gaza students who want to study in the West Bank, which has been upheld by the High Court. Even before instituting the formal prohibition, by the 1990s Israel had already imposed various restrictions on travel, which have become ever more stringent and led many Gazans to decide not to study at universities in the West Bank.
The academic year at Birzeit starts on August 15. Sharif wanted to get to the university by Thursday to arrange her registration, and was hoping that, with all the talk of easing the closure, the Israeli authorities would show understanding for her desire to specialize in human rights. On June 7 she asked for a travel permit, submitting her request to the Palestinian Civilian Committee, which is tasked with handing over the requests to Israel’s Gaza coordination and liaison office. But the Palestinian committee, which acts under Israeli instructions, refused to accept the request since the liaison office deals only with travel requests that fall within the category of humanitarian or urgent medical needs.