Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Israel Holds Firm in Banning Gaza Residents From Studying in the West Bank

July 7, 2010

By Matthew Kalman


The Israeli High Court has dashed hopes that Israel's decision to ease the blockade on Gaza will also enable students there to study in the West Bank.

In a ruling on Wednesday, judges here denied a petition by Fatima Sharif, a lawyer in Gaza, to attend classes at Birzeit University in the West Bank, where she has enrolled in a master's program in human rights and democracy.

The Israeli army effectively banned all Palestinian students in Gaza from attending West Bank universities several years ago and lately has been arresting and deporting those found in violation of the rule.

In 2007 the court instructed the army to reconsider the blanket ban and recommended that exceptions be granted in "cases that would have positive human consequences."

"Today the Defense Ministry admitted that since this judgment was handed down, Israel has not issued a single permit to a student from Gaza," said Sari Bashi of Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, a human-rights group that represented Ms. Sharif.

Ms. Sharif said she believed her case fitted the criteria laid down by the court in 2007 because the course is not available in Gaza, where she works for an advocacy organization, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

"I want to go back to Gaza at the end of my master's-degree studies to raise awareness about human rights within the society in Gaza. I firmly believe that every person has rights that they must be made aware of, including where these rights are violated, whether from within their own society or from without," she said.

The Ministry of Defense, the respondent in the case, told the court that an Israeli government decision on June 20 to ease the blockade on Gaza "does nothing to expand the criteria" for entering Israeli-controlled territory, "and it certainly does not permit passage for purposes of master's-degree studies."

Wednesday's decision appeared to set a harsh new precedent by accepting the Ministry of Defense statement without even referring to the 2007 ruling.

"We evaluated the case of the petitioner and were not convinced that in the current political-security situation, her personal circumstances justify intervening in the respondent's decision," the judges said in a written decision. "In a series of recent decisions, the court has not intervened in the policy of the respondent, and there is no justification to act differently in the case of the petitioner," they wrote.

Nomi Heger of Gisha, who argued the case for Ms. Sharif, said, "I regret that the court declined to follow its own case law and evaluate Ms. Sharif's request in the framework which the court itself established in 2007, namely the need to consider exceptions to the general ban."

Gisha officials said there is no possibility of appealing the decision, but, in light of the Ministry of Defense's admission that no students had been allowed to leave Gaza for the West Bank in the past three years, they plan to ask the ministry to clarify its understanding of the meaning of "positive human consequences."

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