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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 of Palestinians.
"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.
AAI, 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
American Task Force on Palestine
Churches for Middle East Peace
Arab American Institute
Israel Policy Forum
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
February 24, 2009
The Honorable Hillary R. Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Fax:  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 us that:
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 U.S. visa.
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.
The 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. 
For 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. 
We 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.
Yours truly,
Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.
President, Foundation for Middle East Peace
1761 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
Debra DeLee
President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now
1101 14th Street NW, Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20005
Ziad al Asali
President, American Task Force for Palestine
815 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20006
Warren Clark,
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
M.J. Rosenberg
Director, Israel Policy Forum, Washington, DC
122 C Street NW, Suite 820, Washington DC 20001
Steve Masters
President, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom,
11 E Adams, Suite 707, Chicago, IL 60603
cc:  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 Council
       Jeffrey Feltman, Acting Assistant Secretary of State,  NEA
       Thomas Goldberger, Director, Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, NEA





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