Something very unfortunate happened this week. The US had to revoke eight Fulbright Scholarships for students from Gaza to study in the US due to Israeli-imposed travel restrictions. From CNN:
The U.S. government has taken Fulbright scholarships away from eight students in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, citing Israeli travel restrictions imposed on the Hamas-ruled zone, a U.S. official said Friday.
The scholarships, which bring international students to the United States to study at American universities, will be given to students in the West Bank, said Stacey Barrios, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.
Barrios said the scholarships were taken away because of restrictions that the Israeli government placed on travel in and out of Gaza.
This is pretty sad for those eight students, who had already been offered scholarships but were just informed that they can no longer take them. More importantly, this is also another indication of just how outrageous Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has become. Beyond just being heavy-handed, it’s hard to imagine how such a strategy could not be counterproductive. If Israel were at all interested in seeing Gaza transition into a more moderate, developed, and peaceful territory, education–particularly international education–should be a top priority (although that can only improve the situation so much, and any long-term stable solution will surely have to involve Palestinian self-determination). Regardless of that, the fiasco over these scholarships is also likely a partial failure of US diplomacy (see this article for more on that).
There’s another interesting aspect of this story, though, related to an analogy between Israel and South Africa. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has often been compared to South African apartheid. Based on what I know about Palestine (from following current news reports) and what I know about South African apartheid (from various readings, conversations with South Africans, seminars on South Africa, and travels within South Africa), I would argue that this analogy–while not perfect–is largely accurate and informative. Most relevant here is that central to both is (or was) sequestering and restricting the movement of subjugated people in the name of national security.
Extending this to the current row over the Fulbright Scholarships, a very loose analogy could be drawn to the Rhodes Scholarships in South Africa during apartheid. South Africa was one of the constituencies originally named in Cecil Rhodes’ will to receive Rhodes Scholarships. This, of course, became a strained relationship as South African apartheid intensified and as South Africa withdrew from the international community over the course of the Twentieth Century. Not surprisingly, there were very few non-white South African Rhodes Scholars during apartheid, although pressure from other Rhodes Scholars led to the Rhodes Trust making some structural changes to try to improve these numbers. Eventually, the Rhodes Trust was even seriously considered having Rhodes’ will legislatively altered to discontinue some of the South African Rhodes Scholarships (and this would have been a fair change, because these particular scholarships were reserved for alumni of specific white-only schools), but the apartheid government fell before this actually came to fruition.
My point in bringing this up, though, is that even during the darkest hours of apartheid, no South African Rhodes Scholars were prevented from accepting their scholarships due to travel restrictions. Considering how oppressive the apartheid government was, I find this quite impressive. But, this just goes to show how dire the situation in Israeli-occupied Palestine has become, since on this particular metric, it has reached a level that wasn’t even seen in apartheid South Africa.
Philip Ziegler, Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships (2008).
Update – 2 June 2008: It appears that the scholarships have been reinstated, thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to media pressure. Also, despite my initial source indicating that there were seven Fulbright Scholarships involved, most sources are cite a number of seven. I’ve changed the title of the post to reflect this.