It is a bad situation and it's right to protest these withdrawn opportunities with reference to academic freedom, effective imprisonment, blighted lives, the personal disappointment of the individuals affected and the critical importance of education to Palestinian prospects - these things stand on their own as reasons to challenge such easy sacrifice of students' right to travel to Israel's security agenda, even without Gaza grantee Abdulrahman's point about Israel's stake in Palestinian civil society:
"...these Fellowships and exchange programs provide between liberal educated people in Gaza and the outside world are the bridges on which future peace might be built. Destroying these bridges is not in anyone's interests and it is certainly not in Israel's security interests. An educated public in Gaza is the bedrock on which a two state solution might be built one day. Without that bedrock, peace will be built on a very weak foundation."The matter of Palestinian education is something that British UCU activists repeatedly assert as a priority and I learnt about the situation from a pro-boycotter in UCU (who spoils things by appearing to derive so much satisfaction from the mere act of passing on bad news about Israel). The trouble is, nobody from the boycott camp has actually suggested anything likely to help these students, compounding the impression that the particular struggle the Israel boycotters are involved in has very little to do with Palestinians themselves. You can probably imagine the PACBI response, a shortish piece which sidled towards its inevitable destination of a boycott call and, having introduced that, rapidly drew to a close. That was more or less it from PACBI. Electronic Intifada reproduced the piece. BRICUP, who have been working tirelessly to persuade us to boycott Israeli academics (or the academy, or whatever they're calling them now) ignored the Fulbright students.
Meanwhile Gisha had briefed the press, different sections of the Israeli political spectrum were making the students' case, and a group of Fulbright scholars set up a blog, petition, and Facebook presence.
The outcome, which - surprise - we didn't learn from pro-boycotters, of what seems to have been constructive activism and debate within Israel was that the U.S. reinstated the scholarships and Israel granted the exit visas to four of the seven. According to one of the students, Zohair Abu Shaban, three have been refused exit visas, perhaps because of assumed association with Hamas - Zohair wasn't told the reasons as he was packed off back to Gaza. He, like the others, has been thoroughly evaluated during the Fulbright application process. The US and Israeli education ministers are currently working to secure their passage out of Gaza.
Gisha reported last October that of 670 Gazan students who are not able to take up their university places abroad, nine have places in Britain. Sari Bashi, who runs Gisha, recently said that hardly any students have been permitted to leave since and the Jordan Times reports that no students have received exit visas since January. Two students - Abir Abu Warda who has a place at to study Urban Design at London Met, and Wissam Abuajwa, who has a place to study Environmental Science at Nottingham, have contacted Gordon Brown this week, but the others aren't named - it has been difficult to find anything about them. The original Gazan student cause célèbre was Khaled Al-Mudallal. Although credit for his return to Bradford seems to lie largely with Gisha, we know from his experience that the kind of constructive and targetted international campaigning backed by the NUS works on many levels, not least the morale of the students. But although the students whose causes are taken to the Israeli Supreme Court as test cases by organisations like Gisha become, like Al-Mudallal, Abuajwa and Warda, causes célèbres, the majority remain nameless and faceless, despite efforts to find out more.
Action should probably begin at, or at least include, home. If each institution organised for the students who had places in that institution, and if those actions joined up to a national campaign, that would provide a focus. If anybody happens to know the names of the other seven students with places in the UK and - even better - where those places are, if they would be so kind as to leave the information as a comment here or use the contact details above that would be grand. Meanwhile a letter to Gordon may help to galvanise action at higher levels. The International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, and other international development ministers can be found at the DFID site. There's also the ministerial team for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. Refer to Gisha's June 2008 report on 'Students Trapped in Gaza'.
Whatever your feelings on the blockade, Hamas or the Israeli government, as Justice Elyakim Rubinstein points out, it is in the interests of everybody who cares about the region to help these students to study.