The High Court of Justice recently upheld a government policy prohibiting a
group of five Gazan women’s rights activists from majoring in gender studies at
Bir Zeit University north of Ramallah.
The women had been offered the
opportunity to go to university through a US-sponsored scholarship
The ruling was noteworthy since in two previous hearings the
court had issued two interim orders seemingly demanding that the state allow the
women to use their scholarships and study for their degree.
The court had
previously noted both that the state offered no specific security objection to
any of the women themselves (although there were concerns regarding certain
students’ family members) and that they were mostly in their late 30s, older
than the profiled “security risk” age group security agencies worry about the
The court and the petitioners had also noted that the state had
recently departed from its policy in the past allowing Gazan students to study
at West Bank Universities.
As recent as summer of 2010, the government
permitted a group of Gazans to accept their US scholarships and study in the
Besides that specific approval under similar circumstances,
according to the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Israel approves
travel from Gaza to the West Bank for about 4,000 people a month, despite a
general ban on travel.
The court’s final ruling did not endorse the state
policy, but by declining to intervene, the court effectively left the Gazan
women no way to overcome the policy – and study at the gender studies
There is no gender studies program in Gaza, where Hamas is in
control and is not particularly sensitive to women’s rights.
controls any possible manner of travel between Gaza and the West Bank so even if
the Fatah and Hamas authorities approve travel between the areas, it can
ultimately veto any travel.
At the hearings before the court and in legal
briefs submitted to prevent the Gazan women from traveling to the West Bank to
study there, the state argued that it has both security and political reasons
for banning the students from traveling.
From a security perspective,
even if the particular students have not been involved in terror, the state
regards West Bank universities as potentially problematic, claiming that some
students are radicalized into involvement with terror during their
Politically, the state says that its ban on travel is designed
to weaken Hamas, which regularly fires rockets at Israeli civilians, fought a
war with Israel from December 2008 to January 2009, promotes other terrorist
attacks and is publicly committed to Israel’s destruction.
claimed that the 5,000 Gazans allowed to visit the West Bank are almost all
medical and humanitarian cases and that each individual is at the state’s
The state explained that its “exception” to the ban on travel
other than for humanitarian purposes – when it allowed students to accept US
scholarships to study in the West Bank in 2010 – was done for undefined foreign
policy reasons, also at the state’s discretion.
Following the court’s
final ruling, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement said that the US
had pulled the funding for the scholarships, presumably because Israel’s policy
made it impossible for the scholarship money to actually be used by Gazan
However, a representative of the US Consulate said “there have
been no canceled scholarships.”
The implication was that while there had
been a program for the Gazan students to apply to, no scholarships were actually
granted for the current year – as opposed to some past years – and so no
scholarships could have been canceled.
Asked if the US had applied any
pressure on Israel to remove its ban to allow the Gazan women to attend the
gender studies program in the West Bank, the US Consulate representative
referred all inquiries to the Israeli authorities.