GAZA CITY — Despite a court order, Israel is banning hundreds of Palestinians from studying in the occupied West Bank, which has better educational facilities than Gaza Strip, a poor, arid strip of land that is home to around 1.4 million Palestinians.
"We feel lost," Huda Abu El-Roos told Reuters on Monday, November 13.
Gazan Abu El-Roos enrolled at Bethlehem University in the occupied West Bank in 2003, but she has never set foot inside the campus.
Israel has prohibited the 21-year-old and nine colleagues from attending classes on occupational therapy in Bethlehem University.
Instead, the students listen to lectures via a video conference link from Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University.
"The Israeli army has displaced an entire people. It is not difficult for them to displace 10 students and prevent them from studying at their university," said a frustrated Abu El-Roos.
The students, who are in their final year, complain it is very hard to learn occupational therapy from a screen.
Bethlehem University is the only one in the Palestinian territories offering the course.
Shlomo Dror, an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman, said the students were not being targeted, but that no Palestinians were allowed to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
"We know there have been attempts to smuggle explosives and infiltrate into Israel. Students can pose a threat because they are younger and have less to lose and are easily approached by terror organizations," he told Reuters.
The students’ ordeal found its way into Israel’s high court after Israeli human rights group Gisha challenged the ban on behalf of the 10 occupational therapy students.
Lawyer Sari Bashi, a director of Gisha, said the court rejected the claim that the students were potentially "dangerous" in a hearing on November 2 and asked authorities to explain why applicants shouldn’t be considered on an individual basis.
The students said the Israeli army had rejected several applications for them to travel through Israel to the West Bank, which has better educational facilities than Gaza, a poor, arid strip of land that is home to around 1.4 million Palestinians.
Permission to enter the West Bank from Jordan had also been denied, they said.
Another occupational therapy student, Mohammad Azaiza, said the group had once gone to Egypt for practical study.
"The problem is that if we cannot get to the West Bank, we will need to go again to Egypt. But that is not guaranteed," he said.
Palestinians cross into neighboring Egypt via the Rafah terminal in southern Gaza that is routinely shut down by Israel on security grounds.
Israel placed heavy curbs on Palestinian travel between Gaza and the West Bank in the wake of the second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000.
The restrictions have been tightened since the resistance movement Hamas formed a government in March after winning parliamentary elections.
Occupational therapists treat people with disabilities, helping them develop or regain skills that could enable them to find work.
It’s a profession in great demand in Gaza, where years of Israeli occupation have taken their toll on life and limb.
Some 24,000 disabled people in Gaza need the help of occupational therapists, said the Israeli human rights group.
Since the Intifada, the handicapped have crowded health centers," said Azaiza, the occupational therapy student.
"We need to rehabilitate these people and enable them to practice a normal life as much as possible."
Abu El-Roos lamented that many Palestinian students were denied education in their motherland.
"Some students were able to get to foreign countries. But they cannot get to a university in their homeland," she said.
UNESCO has said that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children cannot attend their regular schools because of Israeli army incursions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It said that many Palestinian children are now being schooled at home or in makeshift classrooms such as mosques, basements and alleyways.