Safe Passage

Students

Frequently Asked Questions: stu_icon

Movement of Students from Gaza to the West Bank

Why can’t students from Gaza admitted to universities in the West Bank reach their studies?

Since 2000, along with the restrictions Israel imposed on movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, it completely forbade residents of Gaza to go to the West Bank for the purpose of obtaining higher education. Since then, requests by students from Gaza to move to the West Bank for studies are sweepingly rejected, without an individual security check being conducted for each student.

But the Supreme Court said that the sweeping ban preventing students from Gaza from studying in the West Bank is legal, didn’t it?

Not exactly. In 2005, Gisha petitioned the High Court of Justice on behalf of ten students from Gaza, asking that they be allowed to reach the West Bank for occupational therapy studies at Bethlehem University, which has the only certified occupational therapy program in the Palestinian territory. Israel refused to run individual checks of their applications and prevented their movement based on the argument that the students belong to a “risk group” and that West Bank universities serve as “greenhouses for growing terrorists”. In the summer of 2007, the Supreme Court rejected the students’ petitions, but it recommended establishing a mechanism “to consider individually cases whose resolution could have positive humane implications” (HCJ 11120/05 Hamdan v. OC Southern Command). To the best of our knowledge, contrary to the Court’s recommendation, to this day not a single student from the Gaza Strip has been given an entry permit to Israel for the purpose of studying in the West Bank.

How many students from Gaza have been admitted to universities in the West Bank but cannot attend their studies?

As a result of the sweeping ban that Israel has imposed since 2000 on the movement of students from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, there has been a drastic decline in the number of students from Gaza applying for school in the West Bank. What point is there in applying to a university in the West Bank if the effort will ultimately be met with a total ban on travel on the part of Israel? In 1998, before the ban was imposed, about 1,000 students from the Gaza Strip were enrolled in West Bank universities. Today, Gisha knows of only a handful who have even bothered to apply to universities in the West Bank. But as long as the ban on the exit of students from Gaza remains valid, we will not know just how many students from Gaza would apply to West Bank universities if they had the possibility of actually getting there. The longer this policy remains in force, the more students despair and forego applying to universities in the West Bank, paying enrollment fees, and losing their places at the universities and the scholarships they have won to fund their studies.

Why don’t students from Gaza just study at universities in Gaza?

The five Gaza universities have 58,725 students enrolled and studying a range of subjects. However, the Palestinian system of higher education was planned and developed and had functioned over the years as a single system aimed at meeting the needs of both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Like other sectors, the higher education system in the West Bank is more developed and extensive, and most of the Palestinian universities and vocational training colleges are located there. Students at West Bank universities have twice as many lecturers and a richer array of subjects relative to the universities in Gaza: there are 30% more undergraduate programs in the West Bank relative to those offered at Gaza universities, and the number of Master’s degree programs is 40% higher in the West Bank than in Gaza. The West Bank also offers important degrees that are not available in Gaza, such as dentistry, occupational therapy, medical engineering, veterinary sciences, environmental studies, democracy and human rights, and PhDs in chemistry.

The limitations of the higher education system in Gaza derive from, among other things, the movement restrictions Israel has imposed on entry into Gaza over the years. Pursuant to those restrictions, Israel has prevented the entry into the Gaza Strip of lecturers and researchers from abroad and even from the West Bank. Meanwhile, Israel has also restricted the travel of lecturers and academics from Gaza abroad for academic and research activities. The tightening closure Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip, especially since 2007, has caused a shortage of textbooks and laboratory equipment at Gaza universities. Faculty members are barred from accessing international conferences and advanced studies and are thus forced into isolation from the outside world.

Students from Gaza used to choose West Bank universities in order to study subjects that are not available in Gaza, to enter special programs or study with preferred lecturers, or for a change in environment and atmosphere, just as many young people do in Israel and around the world. The ban on travel to the West Bank hinders students’ aspirations for personal and professional development, denies many of them the possibility of providing the residents of Gaza with the services they need, and prevents them from realizing their aspirations to contribute, through tools acquired in their studies, to building an educated and prosperous civil society in the Gaza Strip.

Isn’t Israel preventing students from reaching the West Bank because of concrete security threats?

No. Since 2000 Israel has prevented students from leaving the Gaza Strip for studies in the West Bank sweepingly, by denying all applications for travel related to studies, regardless of the question of whether security officials have individual security concerns related to any of the students. The blanket ban is explained by the State’s argument that young people between the ages of 16 and 35, and especially students in that age group, pose a general threat since they belong to a “risk profile”. The army argued before the Court that even if security officials conduct an individual check and do not find information that indicates that a certain student poses a security risk at the time he or she requested to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, that student may decide to engage in activity that endangers security once they get to their her destination. Because of that theoretical possibility, the army claims, no student should be allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even if an individual check does not find any information that indicates a security risk. The army characterized West Bank universities as “greenhouses for growing terrorists” and claimed that granting permits to students to travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank carries special risks, more than granting such permits to other young people. Israel knows how to conduct individual security checks, and has done so successfully in the past regarding laborers, businesspeople, and the spouses of Israeli citizens who asked to enter Israel from Gaza. Nonetheless, it refuses to conduct such checks on students from Gaza, and chooses to see every young person wishing to acquire an education and build her future as a potential threat to Israel’s security. This is a wholesale violation of students’ right to education and it diminishes the chances of Palestinian society in Gaza as a whole to progress and prosper in the future.

Why should Israel allow Palestinian residents of Gaza to travel through its territory?

Despite the physical separation between them, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip functioned for years as a single social and cultural unit for their residents. As part of the Declaration of Principles in 1993, and later in the interim agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1995 (“the Oslo Accords”), Israel recognized that the two areas constitute “a single territorial unit” where the Palestinian people were to realize their right of self-determination and where freedom of movement was to be allowed. As part of the Oslo Accords, it was agreed to institute a “safe passage” through Israel, where Palestinians would be able to move freely between the West Bank and Gaza. Nonetheless, it was only in October 1999 that one of the routes of the safe passage between the areas opened for the first time, and it operated for a single year. Upon the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Israel closed the passage, and its activity has not resumed since despite repeated promises (for instance, in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access) to renew passage. The political agreements reflect this right enshrined in international legal principles concerning human rights, namely every person’s right to move freely within their own territory.

The obligation to allow passage between Gaza and the West Bank also derives from the right recognized in public international law as the right of transfer: a state is obligated to allow transfer through its territory to people wishing to reach another country when the transfer is necessary but does not harm the transfer state. That obligation stands even if there are alternatives for transfer. A split territory, such as the Palestinian territory, is one of the cases that contributed to the development of the principle of the right of transfer.

But not only does Israel forbid Palestinians from Gaza from traveling to the West Bank through its territory, it also refuses to allow them to enter the West Bank from Jordan through the Allenby Crossing, which does not require transfer through Israeli territory. This indicates that it is not the transfer through Israel that dictates its refusal to allow Gaza residents to move to the West Bank, but rather Israel’s desire to prevent students who are residents of Gaza from living in the West Bank, regardless of their route of transfer.

Why does Israel have to help Palestinians in Gaza when they continue to fire rockets at Israel and hold Corporal Gilad Shalit?

The ever-tightening closure that Israel has imposed on Gaza harms all the residents of the Strip – more than half of whom are children – regardless of any personal involvement in acts of violence against Israel. This constitutes collective punishment in contravention to international law. Indeed, the prohibition on punishing civilians for acts which they did not commit is a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law. IHL seeks to distinguish between those who participate in hostilities and innocent civilians, who are entitled to special protections. The firing of rockets at Israeli civilian population centers is unacceptable and constitutes a violation of international law. This and the ongoing captivity of Gilad Shalit do not, however, justify the imposition of restrictions on freedom of movement for the entire civilian population of the Strip, effectively punishing them for political or other circumstances which are beyond their control. Judging by recent statements of the Israeli government, even the release of Corporal Shalit will not necessarily lead Israel to remove restrictions on freedom of movement for residents of Gaza. Moreover, it should be emphasized that although movement restrictions have been tightened in response to rocket fire, the capture of Shalit, and the rise of the Hamas regime, these restrictions, especially between Gaza and the West Bank, were already in place many years prior. For example, the ban preventing students from Gaza from traveling to study in the West Bank has been in place since 2000.

What is the source of Israel’s obligation to Palestinian students from Gaza?

Israel’s ongoing control of the main aspects of life in the Gaza Strip creates obligations. Since 1967, Israel has ruled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as an occupying power. Even after carrying out the “disengagement” plan in September 2005, in which Israel pulled permanent military installations and civilian settlements out of the Gaza Strip, it has continued to fully control the territorial waters and airspace of the Gaza Strip and the land crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Israel also maintains indirect but substantial control of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Israel’s control of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, in addition to its control of other significant aspects of life in the Gaza Strip, such as the population registry and the taxation system, combined with Israel’s commitments undertaken in the interim agreement, which has legal force, to honor the status of Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit in which freedom of movement would be allowed for people and goods, are the source of Israel’s obligations towards the population of the Gaza Strip. It is Gisha’s position that these obligations derive from international humanitarian law, because Israel is the occupying force in Gaza. Even the Israeli Supreme Court, which holds that the laws of occupation do not apply to Gaza, ruled that Israel continues to bear obligations toward the residents of Gaza, deriving from the state of combat between Israel and militants in Gaza, its ongoing control of Gaza’s borders, and the strong dependence created in Gaza upon services provided by Israel as a result of the years in which Israel controlled the Gaza Strip directly, from 1967 to 2005. One way or another, Israel is still responsible to the Gaza Strip and its residents in the areas it controls, including for the movement of people into and out of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel is obligated by international law, and particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which it is a signatory), to respect the right to freedom of movement of the Palestinian residents under its control.

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