MENA: Visas of Fulbright scholars revoked

Earlier this week three Palestinians, recipients of prestigious Fulbright scholarships to study in the United States, had their visas revoked by the US, preventing them from taking up the scholarships. A fourth, a high-school student on a separate programme, was also stopped. Yet two and a half months ago, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had personally intervened to make sure that the grant winners would be able to go. Why the last-minute change of heart? Bloggers from around the Middle East have a number of theories.

The story started at the end of May when seven Fulbright winners from the Gaza Strip had their grants withdrawn, as the US State Department was concerned that it would not be able to get them out of the Gaza Strip to the American Consulate in Jerusalem for visa interviews. Condoleezza Rice made sure the scholarships were reinstated, and because Israel would not allow three of the seven, Zuhair Abu Shaban, Fida Abed and Osama Daoud, to leave Gaza because they were ‘security risks’, American officials made exceptional efforts and interviewed the three on the Gaza border. All three were subsequently granted visas, on 30 July. Two days later, however, their visas were revoked. Fida Abed had already flown to Washington, but was turned away at the airport and sent straight back to Amman, Jordan. State Department officials will only say that ‘new information’ was received about the three, along with a fourth, Ahmed Ma'arri, a 14-year-old high-school student who was the recipient of a separate scholarship.

Emily, writing at the Arab-American blog KABOBfest, is not really surprised:

Three of the seven Fulbright grantees from Gaza have had their visas canceled finally by the US: one, after flying to Washington only to be told by border security that his visa was no longer valid. The saga of the journey to Jordan strikes me as a remarkably hallmark Palestinian travel experience. If Israel finally had information in the end to send over to the US authorities to cause them to cancel the three visas, it strikes me as publicly admitting that the seven were originally denied based on no information whatsoever. (Whether that information is accurate or not… I mean, clearly, the kid just out of high school is a terrorist planning to use his education to bomb and kill.) I'd like to see the security information forwarded by Israel. Who wants to place a bet that it says “Palestinian, male, born in Gaza= DENIED.”

Israeli-American blogger Jerry Haber, writing at The Magnes Zionist, believes Israel wanted to save face:

Meet Fidaa Abed and Ahmed Ma'ari. Abed was headed to the University of California at San Diego for a graduate degree in computer science. Ahmed is a high school student. Both won Fulbrights to study in the US. Both had their Fulbrights cancelled, then reinstated, then US visas issued, then revoked. Now, let me get this straight. At first they weren't a security threat; they were just kept in Gaza because of Israel's stranglehold on that territory. It's called “collective punishment” – if we hurt the Gazans enough, they will rise up and throw out Hamas. Gee, that's a smart strategy. Certainly has worked. […] What's a better explanation for the reversal of fortune? That Mr. Abed and Mr. Ma'ari are the victims of a face-saving ploy that Israel was desparate to pull off, and that America has agreed to, for the moment. You know the drill – the US decides to let some of the Fulbright students in (to make Condi happy), and decide to keep some of that out (to make Israel happy). That resolves the diplomatic mini-crisis. On the backs of the Palestinians.

Ms. Missive, an American living in Israel, writing at Patriot Missive, thinks the US handled the situation badly:

It wouldn’t be first time we’ve looked so clumsy. I’m still waiting on details of the security concerns though.

In a follow-up post, she points out that some Arab students currently studying in the US have just paid a trip to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

DesertPeace, an American living in Jerusalem, is concerned that just opposing Israeli policies would be enough to prevent travel:

‘Are you now? Were you ever?’ Obviously two questions that weren’t asked of the Gaza recipients of Fulbright grants when they applied for travel permits. In the ‘good-ole’ McCarthy era those questions were in reference to membership in the Communist Party, today it refers to any organisation you may belong to that is opposed to the genocidal policies of Israel. Condoleeza Rice, herself, took a position that helped these young students get their travel permits in order…. but it seems that the powers of AIPAC are even stronger than the office of the Secretary of State.

However Carl, an American-born Israeli writing at Israel Matzav, thinks the decision was right:

And the [denied] three apparently have closer connections to Hamas and terrorism than Condi was willing to admit two months ago. Don't hold your breaths waiting for Condi or anyone else at State to apologize.

A number of bloggers look at the long-term implications of such a decision. Arab-American blogger Edmund, writing at The Philistine, asks:

What “new” information could there be? By denying education to the masses and even the few all you do is give extremist more recruits. Now you understand why white slave owners denied education to their “workers.” The less you know the easier you are to control and the US and Israel fear the prospect of an educated Arab (Palestinian) society.

Teach the Masses in Kuwait echoes the sentiment:

Yes, no doubt the ‘new information’ was fabricated as a cover for the plain fact that the Israelis want as few well-educated Palestinians around as possible – makes containment easier.

US blogger Richard Silverstein, writing at Tikun Olam, despairs at the short-sightedness of the decision:

At this rate, the U.S. is lucky that any Gaza students have an interest in studying in this country. Certainly, the Israeli “evidence” is designed to promote obstacles for Palestinians to study abroad. It is not in Israel’s interests for Gazans to do so. God only knows what academic knowledge and expertise they might bring back with them to improve the lot of their fellow Gazans when they return. Who knows what new theories they might advance, new businesses they might create, new political ideas they might implant? It’s all certainly too much for Israel, which prefers an impoverished, poorly educated society as one that is supposedly easier to dominate. […] These Palestinian young people are learning a lesson from this – that the U.S. is not to be trusted, that it is little better than Israel in fabricating reasons to suspect Palestinians. Such lessons last a lifetime, and not just in those of the specific victims, but in the lifetimes of young Palestinian children who would be the Fulbright applicants of the future. At this rate, we’ll be lucky next year if ANY Palestinian wants to apply. And we wonder why Arabs hate us.

We end with some comments by Hassan, the teacher of the high-school student Ahmed Ma'arri who was prevented from going to the US. Hassan was commenting on an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:

I want to add that Ahmed is only 14 years old , one of the best students at a program called ACCESS sponsored by AMIDEAST, he went through so many exams and interviews to gain this scholarship, he is a mere boy. He has nothing to do with politics or Hamas. He just dreamed to be a good, distinguished student. He has been taught in a course for two years how to love the world and how to be an open minded student. He did so many presentations about the American culture and the cultures around the world. You are just frustrating our kids and want them all to be as you call it “terrorist or martyrs “. PLZ. What threat does this 14 -year-old student have for the security of the USA or Israel?

And in response to another commenter who asked if Ahmed had celebrated when the World Trade Center was destroyed, Hassan said:

Thanks indeed you all who support Ahmed and I really sympathize with those who are still misled by the media. Firstly, at 9 /11 Ahmed was only six years old. Secondly, Ahmed belongs to an educated family… You should know that most people decline the idea to let their sons travel for one year especially at this critical age. Thirdly, we have lots of political diversity. […] Plz, Let Our Kids Lead a Healthy life.


  • Ronald Hugar

    Such insanity can only end badly.

  • Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. This case explains how Palestinians suffer every day in all matters and shows the hypocricy of the US adminstration. Whatever happened to the US of yesteryear who represented the inscription on the Statue of Liberty states: “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…(except if they are Palestinian)

  • Joseph Farah

    Palestinian people do not exist

    A provocative headline? It’s more than that. It’s the truth.

    Truth does not change. Truth is truth. If something was true 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, it is still true today.

    And the truth is that only 30 years ago, there was very little confusion on this issue of Palestine.

    You might remember the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir making the bold political statement: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.”

    The statement has been a source of ridicule and derision by Arab propagandists ever since. They love to talk about Golda Meir’s “racism.” They love to suggest she was in historical denial. They love to say her statement is patently false – an intentional lie, a strategic deception.

    What they don’t like to talk about, however, are the very similar statements made by Yasser Arafat and his inner circle of political leadership years after Meir had told the truth – that there is no distinct Palestinian cultural or national identity.

    So, despite the fact that conventional wisdom has now proclaimed that there is such a thing as the Palestinian people, I’m going to raise those uncomfortable quotations made by Arafat and his henchmen when their public-relations guard was down.

    Way back on March 31, 1977, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Zahir Muhsein. Here’s what he said:

    The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.

    For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.

    That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? It’s even more specific than Golda Meir’s statement. It reaffirms what I have written on this subject. And it is hardly the only such statement of its kind. Arafat himself made a very definitive and unequivocal statement along these lines as late as 1993. It demonstrates conclusively that the Palestinian nationhood argument is the real strategic deception – one geared to set up the destruction of Israel.

    In fact, on the same day Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn in 1993, he explained his actions on Jordan TV. Here’s what he said: “Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do this in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish a sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel.”

    No matter how many people convince themselves that the aspirations for Palestinian statehood are genuine and the key to peace in the Middle East, they are still deceiving themselves.

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again, in the history of the world, Palestine has never existed as a nation. The region known as Palestine was ruled alternately by Rome, by Islamic and Christian crusaders, by the Ottoman Empire and, briefly, by the British after World War I. The British agreed to restore at least part of the land to the Jewish people as their ancestral homeland. It was never ruled by Arabs as a separate nation.

    Why now has it become such a critical priority?

    The answer is because of a massive deception campaign and relentless terrorism over 40 years.

    Golda Meir was right. Her statement is validated by the truth of history and by the candid, but not widely circulated, pronouncements of Arafat and his lieutenants.

    Israel and the West must not surrender to terrorism by granting the killers just what they want – a public relations triumph and a strategic victory. It’s not too late to say no to terrorism. It’s not too late to say no to another Arab terror state. It’s not too late to tell the truth about Palestine.

  • Igor Hunan


    There TRULY is no such thing as a “Palestinain People.” This was all concocted by the communist Arafat and the leaders of USSR and North Vietnam. The Arabs can never beat the Jews on the battle fields. The Jews have the Almighty One behind them. The descendants of Ishmael wil never win. YET, the same people wish to defeat Israel, the same way that the North Vietnamese defeated the USA—in spite of the USA killing teh North militarily.

    If these “brilliant Arab” students want to go to college, let them go to college in a Muslim country. They are from an enemy “nation.” A nation which seeks to destroy Jews and Christians.

    I say “GREAT JOB” as to keeping these rotten Terrorists in Training out of the USA. Let them all stay away.

  • Ronald Hugar

    What idiocy! In fact, 65 years ago Isreal did not exist as a sovereign nation except as a literary fiction. The willful rewriting of history to justify some hormone driven idea of destiny is but one of the tools of the curse of bigotry.

    The world is being destroyed by a cancer called Middle Eastern bigotry. Millions of decent humans, whether Arabs, Jews, Americans, Russians, whatever nationality an individual is born into by chance, are losing their lives to this ideological disease, the cure of which seems to be nothing short of species suicide. The longer I live the more acceptable such a solution seems.

    May God have mercy on the twisted souls who believe physical, spiritual, emotional or mental death is the way to resolve human conflict. May God have mercy on those of us who have to live with the consequences of such thinking.

  • […] the Gaza Strip who were due to go to the United States on Fulbright scholarships had their visas revoked at the last moment. Two of the students who were denied the chance to pursue their studies have […]

  • Please, do not say there is no Palestine. Stop this insanity and save our people. Haifa, Gaza our beloved land ripped apart. Jews and Muslims lived in this land forever. Sure there were always outbreaks and disputes. I see this as some sort of cray Imperilistic idea foreign to middle eastern ways. How many jewish girls have fallen in love with an arab man? or vice versa. It breaks my heart; our children suffer and victims become predators. Not my Ahmed. We will save All of the Ahmeds

  • Igor Hunan

    Sorry to disappoint the enemies of Israel, and teh Jews, BUT the “Palestinian” (meaning palestinian arab) was a creation of the PLO with assistance by USSR and North Vietnam. The enemy arabs knew that they could NOT defeat the Jews by normal military means….so with huge falsehoods, lying campaigns, and terrorism (coupled with the natural liberalism of the modern Jew) they sought to destroy Israel by other means.

    Israel as THE JEWISH HOMELAND has existed for 3,000+ years. The MAJOR reason why muslims seek to destroy Israel, and kill or make “dhimmis” the Jews, is the ABSOLUTE inability of islam to be tolerant of any other faith or people.

    One day, soon, the Jewish people will expel every muslim from ALL of Israel, by whatever means—-just teh same way that Jews are BARRED for living in, and often even VISITING muslim lands.

    Certainly the muslims should accept that result. They have minimal historic connection with Israel or Jerusalem. It is not even mentioned ONE TIME in the Koran. The land and Jerusalem is mentione THOUSANDS of times in the Holy Torah. Muslims have “earned” their expulsion. Let them commit mayhem and murder somewhere else. Islam Kaput!

  • Thanks for bringing MENA and Ahmed to my attention. Islam is no more KAPUT than Judaism. Islam is a good kind religion. Does not Islam mean “surrender.” Read the Torah, how many times did the people of Israel fall short, miss the mark. And Ishmael, you mean Abraham’s other son, sounds familial to me. Maybe if we drew some Arab and Hebrew blood we would find some common alleles. The children are hurt. The governments of the world are manipulating all of these things to their advantage. Did not the Ottomons love Jerusalem? Did they not live in relative peace Hebrew and Arab together in the LAND OF PALESTINE. If you look hard you can find palestinian jews. Jews who have lived in palestine for I know not how long. Who will take up the plight of these children?
    No big shot attorneys, ACLU, anyone. We are breeding hurt, which breeds anger and anger must go some where.
    The US is no great land for those who have no where to lay. Under the patriot act we can be yanked up anytime.

    I am an immigrant’s child. My parents’ were not treated as equal anglo americans. We were dirty guineas, wops, and jews. Yes, people, i have hebrew blood coursing through my veins. No family is left in Europe. My parents’ were poor and faithful. They taught us the only way to get out of our situation was with an education. Should I capitalize that? And me, I married an anglo, who raped, violated my entire family. Very connected and we became refugees. I know what a broken heart and dreams down the drain feel like; not for myself but when I see my children. I tell them too, We are poor in material wealth and power, but our poverty will be your ticket to an education. We must speak for those who cannot for whatever reasons. I lost my voice for six years and no one would speak for me. Who will be these childrens’ voice?

    It is more important than the stockmarket, 9/11 which we
    will never have all the facts on, or anything else that these kids receive what they worked so hard for. Hope is precious thing. Thank you for listening.

    Please let us remembeer there is but one God/Allah and we must put nothing before Him. Love Him with our heart,
    strength and might. Allah lives in my neighbor’s eyes.

  • Wynne Guglielmo

    This is to Ron Hugar: Is that you Ron? From West Chester University and Reading, PA? Call me…I’m in Ellsworth ME

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