The 30 or so Palestinians who won’t be receiving U.S. scholarship money any more are hardly the first victims of the conflict in the Middle East. Nor are they close to being the worst victims. After all, they’re alive and thus able to pursue other opportunities.
But that doesn’t make the U.S. decision to end the scholarship program any less of a shame. Said Amal Ashour, an 18-year-old Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, who learned earlier this year that her scholarship had been withdrawn: “When you live in Gaza, you’re a pawn in a greater political game.”
The scholarship program could have done some good had it been given a chance. Operated by the nonprofit group Amideast, it was one of few U.S. programs for Palestinians; it opened rare pathways out of the violent and squalid world so many have grown up in. That’s why the program was lauded two years ago when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to the region, announced it.
It’s too easy, and not entirely correct, to suggest that the White House killed the program because the Israelis objected to it and because the Romney campaign has repeatedly criticized the president for undermining America’s long alliance with Israel.
Unfortunately, however, Israeli pressure was a factor; Israel refused this year to permit Gaza students to travel to the West Bank, saying its universities foster terrorism. An Israeli spokesman said the travel policy stems from Israel’s conflict against Hamas, which both the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization.
We won’t challenge that assertion, but it would seem that allowing scholarships for students whose interests transcend terrorism or even involve studies that could bring people together would be as much in the Israelis’ interest as in the Palestinians’.
It’s worth noting that while considerable fanfare accompanied the establishment of the program, the White House let it die quietly, almost as if it hoped no one would notice. At least one group, an Israeli organization called Gisha that seeks to increase the free movement of Palestinians, did notice, and took the United States to task for yielding to Israel’s wishes.
“It’s unfortunate and telling that the U.S. government cannot convince its closest ally in the region to allow its scholarship holders to travel from Gaza to Palestinian universities in the West Bank for fear of clashing or making a diplomatic issue.”
Sadly, in the grand scheme of Mideast politics, the death of a few more dreams just doesn’t matter.