International community plays political chess: Gazan students are the pieces

The United States’ decision this month to cancel scholarships for Palestinian students from Gaza to attend universities in the West Bank was illustrative of a reoccurring theme between the international community and Gaza; policy moves predicated on political power plays are made on the daily with little regard for Gaza’s citizens. An expansion of educational opportunities in a region held hostage by political stagnation and violence should be nonnegotiable.

Since 2010, under a program launched by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US has offered 30 scholarships to universities in the West Bank to high school seniors from Gaza who otherwise lacked the financial means to do so. Israel ‘s refusal to grant permits for Gaza students who wish to travel to the West Bank for educational purposes this year pressured Washington to cancel the scholarships altogether. In a region where their own government actively interferes with educational opportunities-last year 7 Gazans were barred from studying in the United States with Hamas citing bogus safety concerns- the US and Israel should capitalize on expanding educational opportunities for Gazans. The benefits of initiatives like the canceled scholarships are two fold: they give refuge to victims of a volatile region and they separate the United States and Israel from behavior that mirrors their enemies.

Canceling the scholarships is not just an ethically reprehensible move for both parties; it is a poor move for security. Impeding access to education contributes not just to a resentment of powers largely seen as prison guards to people who feel shackled by their political reality but it contributes to a gravitation towards radicalism.  It is not inflammatory to suggest that if peoples’ basic humanity is in jeopardy they will turn to extremism.

While Gaza, Israel, and the US continue to tango politically, it’s imperative that Gazan students are able to access higher education; no other chance at peace is greater than the potential for future scholars, intimately familiar with the culture and climate of Gaza, to cultivate sustainable solutions for security.

In an interview with the AP, 18 years old Amal Ashour articulated the predicament eloquently, “When you live in Gaza, you’re a pawn in a greater political game.”  The article goes on to point out that Ashour is now enrolled at the Islamic University-a Hamas run institution in Gaza.  It is perhaps the greatest irony in this entire ordeal: a policy meant to safeguard Israel against terrorism forces students to attend Hamas sponsored institutions.

Many of Israel’s policy initiatives that the international community has condemned have been somewhat buoyed by the notion that Israel must protect itself from its enemies at all costs.  Israel’s ban on Gaza citizens traveling to Israel and the West Bank is maintained under this category with a caveat for exceptions of humanitarian purposes.  The fact that education is seemingly unrelated to these humanitarian concerns is absurd.

Barring Gazans access to educational institutions promotes the current environment of utter stagnation and volatile unrest. It truly squanders potential for future diplomatic avenues.

With a lack of even remotely secular educational opportunities in Gaza, the international community-especially the US, must pressure Israel to lift its travel ban on Gazan students and immediately reinstate the crucial scholarships.

About the Author
Brooklyn Middleton writes from the Middle East. You can follow her on twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.