Egypt's closure of Rafah puts academic future of Palestinians at risk

Sara El Sheekh, Randa Ali, Tuesday 17 Sep 2013

Palestinian students in Gaza fear losing international scholarships as Egypt continues to close borders

Palestinian students remain stranded in Gaza as Egypt continue to shut down the Rafah crossing (Photo: AP)

Tens of Palestinian students gathered on Monday in front of the Egyptian embassy in the Gaza strip to demand the re-opening of the Rafah border.

Palestinian students wishing to study in Egypt or abroad have been stranded in Gaza, as the Rafah crossing has repeatedly been closed.

Twenty-five year old Fidaa Abu-Assi, who received a scholarship to study in the US, has been struggling to leave Gaza for more than a month. Her dream of travelling is fading as the crossing remains closed.

“I’m very angry. It is unfair when I have all the required paperwork, visa, and other documents and only a .... border determines my future.”

“I feel caged, besieged, dehumanised, violated and robbed of my basic right to education,” said Abu-Assi, whose MA program started four weeks ago without her.

Like Abu-Assi, Shahd Abu-Salama, a 22-year old artist, is unable to travel to Turkey to study Media and Communications. Abu-Salama might lose her scholarship if she fails to enroll before 23 September.

Abu-Salama told Ahram Online that she has been to protests against the border closure and met many students in similar situations. Together they started a petition online to put pressure on authorities to open the Rafah crossing.

"I blame Egypt for tightening the siege on the Palestinian people in Gaza, since they know how this symbolises a lifeline for us; the PA who didn't do anything while the situation in Gaza has been seriously deteriorating and everyone who remains silent while collective punishment is practiced on our people," Abu-Salama said.

The crossing and tunnels have been essential to Gaza’s subsistence since the Israeli blockade began in 2007.

The current closure of the border means Gazans are not only suffering from restricted  travel, study and medical care, but also from the lack of availability and increases in prices of basic products, including fuel.

The UN released a statement late July claiming that the Egyptian military destroyed around 80 percent of the tunnels, many of which have been used to smuggle basic necessities into Gaza.

In 2011, after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt ordered the re-opening of the Rafah crossing, a decision that was celebrated by Palestinians in Gaza. Over the course of the last two years the crossing has been intermittently closed following incidents of unrest in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Egyptian Armed Forces have recently launched a large-scale operation against militant groups, who have stepped up their attacks against security forces in the northern Sinai Peninsula since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was removed from office on 3 July. 

Egyptian military spokesman Ahmed Ali recently said there has been cooperation between Egyptian armed  organisations and their counterparts in the Gaza Strip, adding that some of the hand grenades confiscated in Sinai bore the stamp of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ militant wing.

Hamas, an ideological off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has vehemently denied the accusations, describing such claims as “lies and fabrications.”

Meanwhile, a security source told state news agency MENA on Monday that the Rafah crossing will be re-opened on Wednesday and Thursday for four hours, but only for cases of “emergency."

The decision followed a phone call from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbass to Egypt’s Chief of Intelligence Mohamed Tohamy on Monday, to request the crossing be opened to allow the passage of people in need of medical treatment and for students.

Abu-Salama is not optimistic about the announced opening of the Rafah border on Wednesday and Thursday for 4 hours each day.

"This is ridiculous, and it will not solve the serious crisis that has resulted from the closure of the Rafah border since 3 July," said Abou-Salama, adding that around 5000 people have registered to travel, most of them humanitarian cases.

"There is only one solution for this crisis, which is opening the Rafah border permanently,” she adds.

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