Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Six American organizations Urge Hillary Clinton to Help
Palestinian Students Trapped in Gaza to Travel to their US Universities
AAI, February 28, 2009
The Arab American Institute (AAI), in partnership with six other American
organizations concerned with the success of an Israeli-Palestinian peace,
co-signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton
today expressing concern about the insurmountable obstacles that Palestinian
students accepted to U.S. universities face in their efforts to travel from
Gaza to the United States to pursue their education.
The letter --
not the first that AAI has written to the Department of State on this
issue -- urges the U.S. to use its close relationship with Israel to drop an
escort requirement imposed by Israeli authorities at the Israel-Gaza
crossings. Israel doesn't permit students from Gaza to visit the U.S.
Consulate General in Jerusalem to apply for and obtain visas without being
escorted by a consular employee. These students, who in some cases have
received university scholarships, have been admitted and welcomed by U.S.
universities, yet they remain unable to fulfill their ambitions to pursue a
degree in the United States because of Israel's restrictions on the movement
"This is not a new problem, but we have hopes that
this administration, with its renewed dedication to diplomacy and the
serious pursuit of peace in the region, will work to resolve this issue.
This effort to facilitate learning is in the best interest of our country,"
said Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.
the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Americans for Peace Now, American Task
Force on Palestine, Churches for Middle East Peace, Israel Policy Forum, and
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom demand a change in this policy, noting that if it
continues, it will deny well-deserved Palestinian students from a better
education, a life-changing experience and possibly an opportunity to improve
their own societies.
The complete letter is included below:
Foundation for Middle East Peace
Americans for Peace Now
Force on Palestine
Churches for Middle East Peace
Israel Policy Forum
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
The Honorable Hillary R. Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
1 202 647 2283
Dear Madame Secretary:
As the leaders of
seven American organizations that promote peace between Israel and
Palestine, we have written twice to your predecessor about our concern over
the inability of Palestinian students in Gaza admitted to U.S. universities,
in some cases with university scholarships, to come to the U.S. and study.
The problem remains unresolved.
The Department of State has informed
The Israeli authorities do not permit Gazan students, who
are otherwise cleared for travel abroad, to visit the U.S. Consulate General
in Jerusalem to apply for and obtain visas without being escorted from the
Israel-Gaza crossing by a consular employee. The U.S. Embassy in Tel
Aviv routinely attempts to persuade Israel to drop this escort requirement,
but has failed to do so.
As of September 2008, the U.S. Consulate's
policy has been to provide transit assistance only to those individuals
travelling to the United States or a third country on U.S. government-funded
scholarships and programs, unless the individual already possesses a valid
Although officials from the Consulate in Jerusalem
conducted visa interviews for Gazan student applicants in July 2008 at the
Erez crossing under very exceptional circumstances, this was unique, and
will not be repeated because of the security situation.
practical effect of these policies is to prevent Gazan students, some with
scholarships, from taking advantage of undergraduate and graduate school
opportunities in the U.S., unless they are traveling on U.S. Government
scholarships or programs.
We are not aware that Israel has
explained the reasons for its escort requirement. It implies a
security need, yet the Gazans who are permitted to travel abroad are cleared
by Israeli security officials. Moreover, diplomats should not and
cannot be asked to provide security services to host governments.
We urge that the U.S. use its close relationship with Israel more
effectively to persuade it to drop this escort requirement.
In the interim, we also ask that the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem change
its policy and provide escorts to enable the students to travel to Jerusalem
and receive visas. We understand that providing escorts for Gazan
students would be burdensome for the Consulate and risks sending Israel a
message that the consular escort policy is acceptable. Yet we have
been informed that diplomatic missions of other countries, recognizing the
importance of preserving Gazans' access to education, have provided escorts
to approximately 70 Gazans (as well as family members traveling with them)
admitted to universities in their home countries since June 2008. We
do not understand why our country cannot provide this service to Gaza
residents, if indeed, as the Department has stated, we encourage Gazan
students to seek educational opportunities in the U.S.
decades, the U.S. has encouraged foreigners to study in the U.S. for the
good will and understanding these experiences create and for the positive
contributions American-educated foreigners make to their societies. Yet in
recent months, U.S. policy has twice prevented at least five Gazan students
from travelling to U.S. universities to begin first the fall quarter and
then the winter quarter. For a Gazan student to forfeit such an
opportunity is to lose a priceless and life-changing experience. If
our policy persists, it will effectively discourage other Gazan students
from applying to study in the U.S.
We believe current U.S. policy
which was created under the former U.S. administration undermines U.S.
interests by effectively blocking Gazan students, except those who have U.S.
Government scholarships, from studying in the U.S.
strongly urge that this policy be changed by engaging energetically and at
the most senior levels to ensure that Israel drops its consular escort
requirements and, in the meantime, by providing whatever facilitation is
needed, escorts included if necessary, so that Gazan students accepted at
American institutions can pursue their studies in our country.
Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.
President, Foundation for
Middle East Peace
1761 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now
1101 14th Street NW,
Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20005
Ziad al Asali
American Task Force for Palestine
815 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1200,
Washington, DC 20006
Executive Director, Churches
for Middle East Peace
110 Maryland Avenue NE, #311, Washington, DC 20002
Dr. James Zogby
President and Founder, Arab American Institute
1600 K Street, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20006
Director, Israel Policy Forum, Washington, DC
122 C Street NW, Suite 820,
Washington DC 20001
President, Brit Tzedek
11 E Adams, Suite 707, Chicago, IL 60603
The Honorable George Mitchell, President's Special Envoy to the Middle East
Ambassador James A. Cunningham, U.S. Embassy, Tel Aviv
Consul General Jacob Walles, U.S. Consulate General, Jerusalem
Daniel Shapiro, Special Assistant to the President, National Security
Jeffrey Feltman, Acting
Assistant Secretary of State, NEA
Thomas Goldberger, Director, Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, NEA