Rights group: Abolish diplomatic escort for Gaza students

Israel coming up with new ways to make it hard for university students from Strip to study abroad, Gisha says.

Erez Crossing Waiting 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Erez Crossing Waiting 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel has come up with a new way to make it difficult for university students from the Gaza Strip to study abroad and at the same time embroiled foreign diplomats in activities that violate international law, Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement charges in a report published on Monday. According to the report, titled "Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit from Gaza," only students who win academic scholarships may enter Israel to reach university destinations abroad. Anyone who meets this requirement must also pass a rigorous test to prove he does not pose a security threat to Israel. Furthermore, since the summer of 2008, a Gazan student may only transit Israel to go abroad if a diplomatic representative of the country where the accepting university is located, or of the country that sponsored the scholarship, escorts him from the Erez junction with northern Gaza, to the Allenby Bridge with Jordan. This condition went into effect last summer without any explanation by Israeli officials. As a result, only 70 Palestinian scholarship winners managed to leave Gaza via Israel between July and September 2008. "Hundreds of students remained trapped in Gaza, including students who had not been rewarded scholarships, students who did not manage to secure diplomatic escort or who missed the beginning of their academic programs due to the long wait for an escort, and students bound for countries that do not have a diplomatic presence in Israel and which therefore could not "comply with the escort requirement," Gisha said in the report. According to the NGO, diplomatic escort responsibilities involve extensive logistical operations that can drag on for days and weeks. The foreign embassy must track the status of the permit application lodged with the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, coordinate the student's departure time both with the Israel Coordination and Liaison Administration at the Erez checkpoint and with the student, and provide information about the escorts and their vehicles to the Coordinator of Activities's office. On the day of the journey, the diplomat must arrive at dawn. Sometimes he waits hours until the student enters Israel. Other times, he may return home empty-handed. The diplomat must also sign a written commitment promising Israeli authorities he will drive the student directly to Allenby Bridge. If the student is for some reason prevented from crossing in Jordan, the diplomat must drive him back to Erez. Some countries, including the US, refuse to provide this escort service except for Palestinians who have won government scholarships. Those who have not cannot arrange an escort and must stay home. According to Gisha, the escort service "effectively turns these envoys into gatekeepers and service providers on Israel's behalf - at their own expense." Obliging foreign diplomats to provide services for the host government violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Gisha wrote. For example, the convention forbids the use of the facilities and property of a diplomatic delegation, including the delegation's vehicles, for purposes related to national defense or the public benefit of the host country. Gisha called on the government to abolish all restrictions on Gazan students wishing to study abroad as long as they pass a security screening. Meanwhile, the organization demanded that Israel remove the restrictive criteria (such as the condition that the student must win a scholarship in order to study abroad), particularly the diplomatic escort requirement.