Israeli-Imposed Travel Restrictions Force Palestinians to Lose Fulbright Scholarships

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.

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I'm heartbroken. I am pretty sure that, for these students, this might have been the only chance to get a good education and get out of a situation which is not going to improve any time soon, while negatively affecting their life.

Most of Gaza's inhabitants are quite young. If you do not encourage tolerance and academic achievement in young people, what hope is left for peace and development?

Why can't the Palestinians leave via Egypt? Do the Israelis also control the Egyptian border of Gaza?

By Matt Platte (not verified) on 31 May 2008 #permalink

While I feel for the students who have lost their scholarships, the blame lies solely on Gaza's leaders who have not ceased to fire rockets into Israel since (and before) Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. It's terribly unfair for Gazan students, but even more direly unfair for victims of Palestinian rocket fire (and previously, suicide bombing).

@Matt Platte :

As far as I'm aware, the egyptians aren't much better than the Israelis is this regard. Egyptian troops guard the eastern fence of gaza almost as tightly as Israeli's on the other side. They don't accept refuges.

Remember a couple of months ago, when a section of the eastern fence was knocked over. The egyptians tried to stop the palestinians from coming through, but couldn't stem the flow and eventually gave up. They weren't happy about it though.

You can't have everything- The Palestinians did not want to be a part of Israel, they want Gaza and the West Bank to be their own government. Israel shuts its borders to prevent additional terrorist attacks. Since when can't a country in war close its borders to its very attackers?

And yes, where is Eygpt? Clearly Nick wants to target Israel and claim oppression without considering all factors.

Michelle, maybe you should elucidate what factors exactly aren't being considered here. Whether or not one considers Gaza still occupied by Israel, it is certainly still under siege by Israel. With the exception of a small border crossing with Egypt, Gaza is bordered fully by Israel, except for the coastal portion. Since Israel destroyed the only airport in Gaza, there's not really any way in or out of the country. Gaza isn't officially recognized as an independent country, and Israel has effectively isolated it from the rest of the world, so I'm not sure what sort of argument you're trying to make here.

Apartheid is a way of organizing a state. It means that a state has different forms of citizenship, i.e. full or first class citizens, second class citizens and mere denizens. Such a system might be based on race - like it was in South Africa or in the south of the US under the Jim Crow laws - or sect - like it is in Syria. It also means there is some degree of segregation between the different classes of citizens or non-citizens. Usually such a system has different schools, hospitals and other such facilities for the different classes of citizens, epitomized by such perversions like segregated restrooms, park benches or seats in trains and busses for whites and non-whites. Needless to say, the higher ranks of society are closed to the second- or third-class citizens, and they are usually deprived of certain rights, like voting. Nothing like this exists in Israel, where the Israeli Arabs are full citizens and enjoy the same privileges and duties as all other Israelis (with some minor exceptions; military service is not compulsory for Arabs, and there exists some form of afffirmative action for them). There are Arab parliamentarians, ministers, judges at the supreme court, professors and generals.

Imposing a siege on external enemies that bomb you is a form of warfare. It might be an exceptionally hard or cruel form of warfare or not (I personally think the latter alternative applies, if you compare it to, lets say, carpet bombing), and it might be justified by self-defence or not, but it is not Apartheid.

You have a fair point, Johannes. However, you should note that I never say the situation in Palestine is apartheid--just that it has some interesting aspects in common. The aspects in common are enough and interesting enough to make the comparison informative, I believe. It should be stressed that apartheid didn't have the support of most of the white population in South Africa because all white South Africans are insanely racist (although racism had to be pretty prevalent for apartheid to occur). For example, some of the most sweeping pieces of apartheid legislation were sold to the nation based on national security, which is certainly what we see in Palestine right now.

Mr. Anthis thus joins the legion of Israel bashers who decry the beastliness with which its government treats Palestinians. Before posting such drivel, I would suggest that Mr. Anthis spend a week in Sderot which is subject to an unending rain of qassems launched from the Gaza Strip. If the Palestinians wish the Government of Israel to be less beastly, maybe they should consider ceasing and desisting from qassem bombardments. In fact, the Palestinians should consider themselves lucky that the late and unlamented dictator of Syria, Hafaz Assad is not the Prime Minister of Israel. When faced with terrorist attacks emanating from the Syrian City of Hama, he had the town surrounded by several hundred artillery pieces which launched a two day bombardment killing some 20,000 inhabitants therein. This action is now known as Hama Rules via NY Times op-ed writer Tom Friedman. Now that's beastliness for you!