The United States has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip because of Israel’s crippling siege on the coastal enclave, home to 1.6 million Palestinians.
"Now I am desperate," Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor, told The New York Times on Friday, May 30.
Abukwaik received a letter by e-mail from the US Consulate in Jerusalem that her Fulbright grant had been cancelled.
The letter said the grant money had been "redirected" to students elsewhere out of concern the money would go to waste if the Gazan students were denied exit by Israel.
Abdulrahman Abdullah, 30, was in shock when he received the letter.
"I still cannot believe that the American administration is not able to convince the Israelis to let seven Palestinians out of Gaza," said Abdullah, who had been hoping to study for an M.B.A. in the US on his Fulbright.
The Fulbright Program is a government flagship program in international educational exchange.
Operating in 144 countries, the program is considered one of the most prestigious award programs in the world.
The State Department website says the Fulbright Program "creates a context to provide a better understanding of US views and values, promotes more effective bi-national cooperation and nurtures open-minded, thoughtful leaders, both in the US and abroad, who can work together to address common concerns."
"If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society," said Abdullah.
"Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?"
The withdrawal of Fulbright grants has drawn fire as "counterproductive".
"The Fulbright is administered independently, and people are chosen for it due to their talents," said Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli government official.
"We correctly complain that the Palestinian Authority is not building civil society, but when we don’t help build civil society this plays into the hands of Hamas."
The Israeli rights group Gisha also blasted the withdrawal as "injustice".
"The fact that the US cannot even get taxpayer-funded Fulbright students out of Gaza demonstrates the injustice and short-sightedness of a closure policy that arbitrarily traps 1.5 million people, including hundreds of Palestinian students accepted to universities abroad," said Gisha director Sari Bashi.
Israel has been closing Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory last June.
It has completely locked down the area since January, banning food and fuel shipment supplies.
This coincides with a continued US-led Western economic boycott since Palestinians elected Hamas to power in the 2006 elections.
(IslamOnline.net and newspapers)