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Gaza blockade crushes Palestinian student’s dream

Wesam had beaten hundreds of applicants for a seat at Georgetown University’s leadership programme

Image Credit: Ahmed Alnaouq
Wesam spent countless hours studying before submitting his application for the scholarship.
Gulf News

Gaza: “They didn’t kill me, but they killed my dream!” read the status on Wesam’s Facebook page.

His friends offered words of support and sympathy encouraging him not to give up.

“Like a flower waiting for drops of water the whole night, I waited three months for my permit to go to Jerusalem for a visa interview at the US embassy,” he told Gulf News.

The Israelis denied his request, no reason given.

Out of hundreds of Gazan applicants, Wesam had received a scholarship to a six-week leadership programme at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

For the young man who had never been outside of Gaza, to earn such a scholarship was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“That was the only thing I ever wanted,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Wesam Al Naouq, 21, an English Literature student at Al Azhar University in Gaza City was at the top of his class.

If he had been able to travel to Washington, he would have worked on developing his project — to create a centre for Gaza’s talented people to cultivate their skills in order to maximise their incomes. With 40 per cent unemployment in Gaza, such a centre is much needed.

With the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip for the past 11 years, hundreds of Palestinian students have lost opportunities to study abroad — something they have dreamed and studied for their entire lives.

Wesam had spent countless hours studying civic engagement and leadership books before submitting his application for the scholarship.

“I didn’t think I would be accepted. When I got the email that I was, I was elated,” he told Gulf News.

“The first thing that crossed my mind was taking a selfie in front of the White House. “I desperately wanted to go the United States. I wanted to taste the sweet flavour of freedom that I have never known.”

There are only two gates in and out of Gaza. The Erez crossing, controlled by Israel, and the Rafah crossing controlled by Egypt.

According to an official statistic of the Ministry of Interior in Gaza, Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing for only 41 days during 2016 and for 324 days it was closed.

The Egyptian crossing is the most important gateway into Gaza, yet, it is open only three days a month.

According to the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor report, the majority of applications to exit Gaza through the Erez crossing are denied.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has imposed stifling restrictions on the movement of Palestinians through the Erez border.

Additionally, the criteria imposed on students is very strict.

“I’m a not a terrorist! I’m just a guy who wants to live like other people. I want to be free, even if it’s for a short time. But to be free is a crime in the eyes of the Israeli Army.”

“A great man once said, ‘some birds are not meant to be caged,’ but this does apparently does not apply to the people of Gaza. Living in captivity is our destiny and we can do nothing about it.”