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MENA: Refused Gaza Fulbright students speak

A few weeks a group of students from 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 since written heartfelt letters pleading their case.

Haitham Sabbah, a Palestinian blogger based in Bahrain, posts a letter written by Fidaa Abed, a student who had been accepted at the University of California San Diego on a Fulbright scholarship – only to be turned back on arrival in the US:

Last week, I landed in Washington, D.C., brimming with optimism. Upon arrival, I was whisked into a separate room. An American official informed me that he had just received information about me that he could not reveal. However, it required him to put me on the next plane home. I was shocked. And I was taken aback at the cruelty of snatching away my educational dreams at the last possible moment. My mistreatment was particularly unexpected because in late May, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice learned that I and six other Fulbright students were being stripped of our Fulbright scholarships, she leapt to our assistance. One by one, Israel let other Palestinian Fulbright scholars out of Gaza, and they made their way to American universities. Then I was mysteriously singled out for last-minute denial based on “secret evidence.” Two others had their visas canceled on account of secret evidence before they could even leave Gaza. (Originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Haitham asks:

“Secret evidence”… hah? Maybe his “beard”?!

Robin, a commenter on Haitham’s post, thinks she knows what the ‘secret evidence’ that led to the revoking of Fidaa Abed’s visa:

It’s really pretty easy to trace the source of the “secret evidence” which caused the US to revoke Fidaa’s visa. That would be to one Congressman Mark Kirk, Republican Christian Zionist, Illinois, who champions himself as Israel’s best friend in Congress, who himself is a member of the Fulbright Association. Some might remember Mark Kirk from this incident:
“On November 5, 2005, while speaking at Northwestern University, Kirk was asked how he felt about stricter visa policies applied to Arab foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States. Kirk answered: “I’m OK with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states. I’m OK with that. I think that when we look at the threat that’s out there, young men between, say, the ages of 18 and 25 from a couple of countries, I believe a certain amount of intense scrutiny should be placed on them.” So, now that your memory has been jogged about who he is, it should be no surprise that he went on the rampage to do what he could to stop these Fulbright scholars. The New York Sun reported that he wrote a letter to the Inspector General of the State Department, Harold Geisel, with “evidence”. This evidence was that (I don’t know about the other two, but this applies for sure to Fidaa) Fidaa had attended Gaza’s Islamic University.

Jerry Haber, an Israeli-American blogger writing at the The Magnes Zionist, has more information about one of the other students who was not allowed to travel – a high school student on a special programme:

Ahmed Al Maghari - Gazan student

The boy in the picture above, proudly displaying his diploma for learning English, had his visa revoked last week by the United States, while waiting in Amman for his plane to America.
Ahmed al-Mughari (in my post a few days ago I spelled it Ma'ari, following English press accounts) studied English in Gaza for two years as part of a program administered by AmidEast, “a private, nonprofit organization with a mission of strengthening mutual understanding and cooperation between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.” Talented students from Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, as well as Yemen, Kuwait, and Egypt, etc., are nominated when they are about 13 or 14 years old to participate. The students study about 150 hours of general English language, 40 hours academic writing, 30 hours, conversation, and 20 hours public speaking. Classes are on Fridays [the weekend] or during vacations, and are in addition to the students’ regular schooling. … It is a year long program, but Ahmed was lucky and was allowed to spend a second year in the program. When Ahmed finished his second year, he applied to AmidEast to study in America and to live with an American family.

Jerry Haber adds:

The world pictures Gaza as a dysfunctional, overpopulated, hellhole, run by fanatical Muslim fundamentalists, with armed thugs and terrorists roaming the streets. Maybe this is too detailed a picture; most Israelis, if they think of Gaza at all, see it as a miserable place where terrorists who are trying to destroy Israel live. That somebody like Ahmed could grow up in a place like Gaza seems incomprehensible to many Israelis. That Gaza could be home to doctors, lawyers, and university professors, seems as incomprehensible. Such is the power of prejudice and stereotypes.

Then he presents a letter he received from the young student:

Dear sir
I'm very appreciated for you and your huge efforts in seeking to give me a last chance in order to come back to my program. My name is AHMED AL MAGHARI. I'm 16 and I'm Palestinian as you know. At first, I'm going to provide you some details about my program (YES program), YES it is abbreviation for (Youth and Exchange Study). It's a global program for exchange students all over the world for bridging cultures and building understanding among the people in the world. I succeed in this program believing in my self and believing a better education and a better place to live in, but unfortunately, they destroyed my only hope for a better future, however I still insist to travel in any way. In addition, this problem effected me in a very negative way, I felt that I disappointed all my friends and my family's hopes. Moreover, a lot of hard decisions that I took based on studying in America simply destroyed. Any way, thanks a million for you and all the honest people like you and I hope that the problem will be solved in a quick way
AHMED AL MAGHARI

Jerry Haber finishes with a request to his readers:

So what can I say to Ahmed? How can I explain to him what the Shin Bet will not explain to him – why they told the US that he is a security threat. And why did he became a security threat only after the US had granted him a visa. And what is a security threat? Does he have a relative that is suspected of being Hamas? Is there fear that he will want to revenge a martyr? Is it difficult for the Shin Bet to trump up charges – even convincingly — against anybody they want to? If you an American citizen, I ask you to contact your representative in Congress, or senator, and bring Ahmed's case to their attention. You may think that this is a lousy time to do something – Congress is or will be soon in recess; the world is paying attention to Russia's invasion of Georgia and the Olympics. If one young man can't travel to America, is this such a big deal? For me, it is an enormous deal. To save this young man's belief in himself, and in the importance of education, is to save an entire world. Keeping Ahmed in Gaza is a vindictive, spiteful act that says more about Israel's desire to save face with the US than with anybody's security. How ashamed we all should feel.

5 comments

  • patrick

    Call for the destruction of Israel. Call for the destruction of the U.S.A. Support suicide bombings. Root for the enemies of the aforementioned.

    And then you want favors? You want your enemies to gamble that you won’t blow yourself up in a supermarket with women and children?

    Stop the missiles. Stop all terrorist activities. Stop training children to be human munitions. And then, when you can be trusted, you will have access to those things you now denounce.

    Stop whining and take responsibility for what you have wrought.

  • maureen

    In 1947 your leaders were offered half of everything. They declined thinking they would just kill all the jews.

    They drew first blood. They’ve never called off their declaration of war.

    Want to hate someone? Your incompetent, disfunctional, ongoing bloodthirsty leaders are destroying your present and your future.

  • Lily

    These young boys obviously do not subscribe to the same violent, destructive values as those who perpetrate harm on others. This is evidenced by their aspiration to work hard and enter internationally recognised institutions of learning. Alienating such bright,talented, motivated folk will not only deprive them the opportunity to become the moderate spokespeoples of the future, and indeed, the bridge between the Middle East and the West. It also leaves them vulnerable to anger and alienation, marking them prey to those who would wish them believe the West plays out those they promised objectivity, meritocracy, democracy to, on prejudice. Fear of such demographics are not entirely unwarranted by the US especially, but it should not hold back the passage of values being translated in its truest sense.

  • Ayesha,

    Thanks for reproducing my post on Ahmed. I haven’t heard anything new in his case, but I am hoping for the best.

  • dolores Kim

    It’s interesting. another punch to the stomach. Israel, one of the most militarily advanced countries, is afraid of knowledge being gained by the people they oppress. and we are conspirators in that effort. No news media coverage..really no concern and yet we have poured billions of dollars into that region it can only be said to subjugate. No justice, no peace.

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