Meet the people
Age 19, from Gaza, Student
Mohammed, aged 19, was born in the Gaza Strip. Mohammed completed his high school studies last year, with excellent grades in mathematics and physics and a high score of 95.3 on his matriculation exam. After finishing high school, Mohammed intended to study mechatronics. His father is an engineer and owns an engineering company in Gaza and Mohammed hoped to eventually join and develop his father’s business.
Mohammed hoped to study at Birzeit University in the West Bank, which offers a very well respected degree in mechatronics. However, as Israel does not allow students from Gaza to travel to study in the West Bank, Mohammed enrolled at the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, where he completed his first year of studies.
Until now, it was not possible to specialize in mechatronics in Gaza. This academic year will be the first time that a degree track in this field is offered on a trial basis. However, Mohammed does not want to join this program and still hopes to join the long-established degree program offered at Birzeit. Another option for this year is to specialize in mechatronics in a course offered at Al Azhar University in the Gaza Strip. However as this is a relatively new program, it is not yet considered as prestigious as degrees offered elsewhere. Therefore, even if Mohammed does choose to study at Al Azhar, he would still wish to complete his studies at Birzeit, a leading university with an international reputation.
This year, Mohammed decided to try his chances, applied and was accepted at Birzeit, where he was due begin classes on September 3, 2011.
At the beginning of August, Mohammed contacted the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in the Gaza Strip and submitted an application to leave Gaza in order to study in the West Bank. The same day, Gisha contacted the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) and requested a permit for Mohammed to travel to his studies. In mid-August however, the DCO rejected Mohammed’s request stating that “at present, in light of the current political and security situation, residents of the Gaza Strip are only permitted to enter Israel in exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases”. No security block has been placed on Mohammed. Indeed, he has traveled through Erez Crossing to the West Bank and on to other countries in order to participate in peace programs that facilitate meetings between young people.
In spite of this, and in spite of Mohammed’s and Gisha’s efforts to get permission to leave Gaza for his studies, the new academic year at Birzeit began without him.
Age 17.5, from Gaza, Student
Loujin, 17½ years old, was born and raised in the Gaza Strip. Last July she graduated from high school, earning an exceptionally high score of 97.8 on her high school matriculation exam. She plans to study law, following in the footsteps of her father, a well-known attorney in Gaza, in the hopes of one day building a successful career.
Loujin’s mother holds a BA in literature and an MA in political science from Birzeit University in the West Bank. Loujin applied and was accepted to the law program at her mother’s alma mater.
Despite the sweeping ban imposed by Israel preventing students from Gaza from traveling to study the West Bank, Loujin was determined to take up her place and so, at the beginning of August, submitted an application to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee for a permit to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Gisha also submitted a request to the Gaza District Coordination Office on her behalf. Approximately two weeks later the army responded, rejecting her application, not because of any security claim but rather because of the student travel ban.
In parallel and so as not to miss the chance to start her studies on time, Loujin also enrolled in the law program at Al Azhar University in Gaza. She explains, however, that it’s important to her to attend the best law faculty in the Palestinian territory, at Birzeit University, after all the hard work she put in and her achievements thus far.
Loujin’s brother, Khaled, also hoped to study at Birzeit University, but after he was unable to do so, he traveled to England to study where he remains to this day. Loujin wants to attend a Palestinian university, stay close to her family and contribute to the development of her society.
As the summer winds down and students prepare for the start of the school year, Loujin plans to begin her studies in Gaza with the hopes of one day still fulfilling her goal of reaching Birzeit University.
Age 22, from Gaza, Student
at Bethlehem University
Berlanty, a young woman from Gaza, was accepted into a BA program in Business Management and Translation at Bethlehem University in the summer of 2005. Her application for an entry permit into Israel in order to travel to the West Bank to pursue her studies was rejected, but through her connection to the church, Berlanty received an entry permit into Israel in order to participate in a religious gathering. She left Gaza on August 8, 2005, entered Israel using her permit, and traveled to the West Bank. She did not visit her parents in Gaza at all throughout the period of her studies for fear that she would not be able to return to Bethlehem. Her requests to change her registered address to Bethlehem were denied by Israel, which controls the Palestinian population registry.
Two months before the end of the last semester of her studies, when she had just three courses left to complete in order to earn her degree, Berlanty’s education came to an abrupt halt.
On October 28, 2009, an excited Berlanty traveled to Ramallah for a job interview. After it was over, she began the journey back to Bethlehem in a taxi. While checking her particulars at a checkpoint near Bethlehem, inside the West Bank, Israeli soldiers noticed that the address listed on her identity card was in Gaza, and they detained her at the checkpoint for several hours. That night Gisha made contact with Berlanty and received her consent to act as her legal representative. The Military Legal Advisor’s Office told Gisha that Berlanty would not be removed to Gaza before Gisha’s attorneys had met with her the next morning and had submitted a petition against her removal to the High Court of Justice on her behalf.
Later that night, Berlanty was body-searched, and then, while blindfolded and handcuffed, she was led into a vehicle, without being told where she was being taken. Berlanty was removed to Gaza, contrary to the explicit promise made to Gisha by the authorities:
“The female soldiers blindfolded me and put my hands in cuffs with my arms in front of me. It was very painful and humiliating. […] They led me into a car, into a kind of dark room where I was left by myself with my hands bound. At one point I knocked on the driver’s window and asked if they would undo my cuffs because they really hurt, but they ignored me. At around 10:30 p.m. they stopped the car and said to me: You’re going back to Gaza. I reached my home in Gaza at around 11:30 p.m. It was extremely hard. I felt humiliated.
“I have not entered the Gaza Strip since 2005 because every time I wanted to go there, I was told that there was a risk that I wouldn’t be able to come back. Finishing my studies was the most important thing to me. To achieve this goal I managed to overcome the separation from my family and my worry for them during the hard times of the war. And then, all of a sudden, near the end of my studies, two months from the end, I’ve been deported to Gaza, without knowing it, blindfolded.”
The next morning, state officials admitted that Berlanty’s removal had been implemented in violation of their explicit promise, but they refused to order her return to the West Bank. On that very same day, Gisha petitioned the High Court of Justice with the request that it order the authorities to permit Berlanty to return to the West Bank. Despite the fact that at no stage were security concerns raised against Berlanty, the High Court accepted the State’s position, and, in December 2009, rejected the petition. Berlanty was forced to remain in Gaza with no possibility of returning to Bethlehem to undertake the last two months of studies necessary to complete her degree. In January 2010, Bethlehem University granted a B.A. to Berlanty after allowing her to complete the remainder of her academic duties from afar.
 HCJ 8731/09 ‘Azzam v. Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank (unpublished, Dec. 9, 2009), available in Hebrew at http://elyon2.court.gov.il/files/09/310/087/V15/09087310.V15.htm.
Age 19, from Gaza, Registered for BA in business
administration at Bethlehem University
In the summer of 2009, ‘Oda was admitted to bachelor’s degree studies in Business Administration in English at Bethlehem University, the university of his choice.
“From the day I finished high school, I have aspired to go to college outside of the Gaza Strip to receive an important and strong diploma. The atmosphere at Bethlehem University is different from Gaza: It’s multicultural and with more liberty […]. Besides, I have uncles and cousins in Bethlehem, so there’s a better learning environment there than here, especially considering the harsh circumstances in Gaza today.”
Like other students from Gaza who wanted to go to Bethlehem University in the summer of 2009, ‘Oda’s request to move to the West Bank was denied by Israel. Israel has maintained its opposition to their travel, despite intervention from both the university and the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel, who serves as the head of the university.
“Like any other student, my dream is to complete my studies and receive a degree from a big university like Bethlehem University, and the prohibition against accessing the West Bank ruins my big dream. […] I feel like I lose hope to reach my studies, which affects my level of education and the course of my life. This is an assault on the freedom of movement of Gaza citizens, mainly the students: it’s my right to study in any university in my country.”
Having no choice, ‘Oda began studying at the Islamic University in Gaza while he waits for a travel permit to Bethlehem to study at the university where he truly wants to study.
Age 24, from Jabalia, in the Gaza Strip
After finishing her high school studies with distinction, Riham was accepted into an occupational therapy degree program at Bethlehem University. This program was initiated by the university in response to a severe shortage of occupational therapists, and the lack of training programs to address this need, in the Gaza Strip.
Riham was supposed to begin her studies at Bethlehem University in September 2003, alongside nine other young men and women from Gaza, but Israel did not allow them to travel to the university. Israel did not suggest any particular security allegations against Riham and her friends, but rather blocked their exit from Gaza as part of a sweeping ban on the travel of students from Gaza to the West Bank.
In order to avoid cancelling the program, the coordinator had to find some alternative solutions, such as conducting courses at the College of Nursing in the Strip’s south, having long, intense days of study jammed with lectures delivered by two lecturers brought in specially from Norway and Bethlehem, and courses taught via video and the Internet, despite the frequent technical glitches involved with these media. For practical training, the students from Gaza had to travel to Egypt on several occasions. This involved waiting for days or weeks for the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to open, since it was closed most of the time during the period of their studies. Throughout their undergraduate studies, there was no one to provide regular supervision for Riham and her classmates and their practical work, and they suffered from a lack of access to the libraries and professional equipment located at Bethlehem University.
Gisha petitioned the High Court of Justice on behalf of Riham and her classmates, with the request that their applications to travel to the West Bank to pursue their studies be examined on an individual basis. The Supreme Court denied the petition in the summer of 2007, accepting the State’s claim that students are considered a “risk group” and that the universities in the West Bank are “terrorist greenhouses,” but recommended the creation of a mechanism “that will deal individually with cases where positive humanitarian implications are known.” Despite the Court’s recommendation, not a single student from the Gaza Strip has been given a permit to study in the West Bank since.
“It’s very difficult to study by remote control. There is no direct contact, no face-to-face contact. Communication is very difficult. […] There are lots of things that we didn’t understand and which can’t be learned over the Internet, for example, how to conduct evaluation appointments with patients. […] We would not have had any of these problems if we could have traveled to Bethlehem University in the West Bank, but that did not happen, despite a lot of trying from all angles. […] That’s the story of my studies in occupational therapy at Bethlehem University, which to this day I’ve never seen or touched the walls of.”
Riham now works as an occupational therapist at a rehabilitation center for children with disabilities in the Gaza Strip’s north. During the course of her work there, Riham feels that the lack of practical training and professional supervision in her education sometimes leaves her helpless to deal with the challenges she faces. At the same time, Riham’s work highlights the importance of her profession and the demand for it:
“When I work with the disabled children and I see how the therapy helps them to do things by themselves that they could not do before, I feel how important it is that there will be people specializing in this kind of thing in Gaza. […] The separation between Gaza and the West Bank denies disabled people this therapy, which could allow them to live with dignity.”
There are currently more than 35,000 people with disabilities in the Gaza Strip – around 2.5% of the population. These people desperately need occupational therapy, which can help them to function in daily life. Nevertheless, there is still no recognized degree program for occupational therapy in the Gaza Strip, and Gaza students cannot travel to the West Bank in order to study this profession.
 HCJ 11120/05 Hamadan v. The Commander of the Southern Command (unpublished, Aug. 7, 2007), available in Hebrew at http://elyon2.court.gov.il/files/05/200/111/T22/05111200.T22.htm