“I feel like I’m stuck in a box, a box that is totally closed. There is nothing I can do about my situation. Everything around me, the political situation and conflict, it is all outside of my control.”
This is my friend Abeer Alabyad (26) who spent all day today waiting to cross the Rafah border from Gaza into Egypt. She was on her way to Leeds, where she is enrolled in a master programme which is about to start.
At 6.30 this morning she arrived at the border crossing, like many dozens of other Palestinian students from Gaza who are enrolled in foreign universities. They stood in the blazing sunshine and stood in the crowded waiting areas together with many hundreds of people who were on their way to family, hospital or work abroad. “The atmosphere was very tense and because of the stress many conflict and fights broke out between the people who were waiting,” she says.
The waiting was to no avail. At noon the border closed. Even though many, like Abeer, waited until 3pm, the Egyptian authorities allowed no one to cross the border today, citing the security situation in the Sinai.
Since the Israeli occupation forces imposed the illegal closure on the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the Gaza Strip has been reduced to an open air prison. Approximately 1.7 million people live on a surface twice the size of Detroit. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, an area often under military attack, suffering from shortages and crippled by poverty. Since the summer of 2011, after the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Rafah border crossing had been a small window to the outside world.
However, furing the unrest surrounding the ousting of President Mursi in early July, the Rafah border was shut down. It has been opened only for a limited number of days since then. The number of Palestinians registered and waiting to travel out of Gaza has risen to approximately 5,000. With only around 50 persons being allowed to leave Gaza on a daily basis, this number continues to climb.
Abeer says: “We are really sorry for what is going on in Egypt, but at the same time we are bearing the brunt of what is happening. None of this is our fault. We are simply the wrong people at the wrong time in the wrong place, living in Gaza.”
The British Consul has tried to intervene and push for Israeli permission to let the students travel to the U.K. via Israel. This requests was answered with a simple ‘no’. The students could travel via Rafah, it was said. The Turkish consulate also appealed to the Israeli occupation authorities, equally without luck.
Over the upcoming days, students from Gaza will speak out during protest events, and are hoping to be heard. They want their right to travel abroad to be respected. Abeer: “Students are not a part of any conflict, political party or military. They just want to pass through the border. All we want, is to go to our universities to study.” She estimates that more than a hundred students are still waiting to travel to their universities abroad. Approximately fifty of them are headed for Turkey. Dozens of others hope to reach the United Kingdom. “The al Fakhoura scholarship for studying in the U.K. has been awarded to 17 students from Gaza, and there are many other applicable scholarship programmes for the U.K., so you can imagine how many students are supposed to be traveling now”.
Abeer took a year of unpaid leave from her job as a technical instructor in commerce at the UNRWA training college in Khan Younis, in order to continue her own education. “Education is the most vital and important field for us as Palestinian people. It is our solution. That is why I chose to do enrol in the Master of International Education Management at the University of Leeds,” she says.
Abeer is a dreamer, but an ambitious one who knows how to make dreams a reality. In 2011 she and her UNRWA college colleagues were the driving force behind the first Palestinian team to participate in the Formula Student Auto Race, which took place in the United Kingdom.
As for her ambitions for the future, she says: “my dream is to come back to Gaza and to work in education. I want to develop the educational system in Gaza, especially for the refugees because I am refugee myself and I work with UNRWA.”
Since she got accepted for the program in July, the closing of the Rafah border had been Abeer’s big worry. Her program in Leeds will start on the 15th of September, and she is in a hurry to leave Gaza: “If I don’t appear at the university during the first week of the academic year, I will lose my seat in the program, as well as the scholarship that was awarded to me by al Fakhoura foundation.”
Abeer has a dream. All students from Gaza and the rest of Palestine have a dream. Despite walls, bombs, and borders they continue to dream, and follow their dreams. Tomorrow they will try once again to cross the border on their way to university. They will keep trying, and we should keep supporting their call for the freedom to travel!