Mann, Tesfalidet, Kaplan-Lyman and Salahi: A fundamental struggle in Gaza

In an affront to students everywhere, Berlanty Azzam, a 21-year-old Business major at Bethlehem University from Gaza, was stopped on Wednesday at a checkpoint in the West Bank, on her way back from a job interview in Ramallah. Azzam was detained, blindfolded and driven against her will to Gaza by the Israeli military, even though she had been promised that she would not be forced to return before her petition to the Israeli Supreme Court could be heard. She was only two months away from earning her degree.

According to human rights reports, Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, including those that forcibly remove students pursuing college degrees, have created a humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly the Gaza Strip. Last December, before Israel’s war, Amnesty International said that Gaza had been “reduced to bare survival” as a result of Israel’s ongoing siege of the territory. Yet despite increasingly drastic conditions in Gaza, American interventions in this situation have often been anecdotal. An almost comical example is the recent phone call to the Israeli administration made by Senator John Kerry ’66, D-Mass., on behalf of pasta which, in addition to countless other goods, had been banned from entering Gaza. Thanks to Kerry, pasta is now allowed but the siege persists, and if yesterday’s issue was pasta, today’s concerns the other fundamentals of daily life.

When we ask why Azzam and hundreds of students in Gaza should be deprived of their education, we are really asking why it was ever appropriate for Israel to isolate Gaza’s civilian population from the world in the first place.

Azzam’s story has been widely covered by international news sources and has garnered a lot of political attention. Even if Israel succumbs to pressure and allows her to return and resume her studies in the West Bank, we need to make sure that her story does not become to the right to education, what pasta was to the right to food. Human rights interventions should not be limited to ad-hoc phone calls. Just like protecting access to health and water, guaranteeing access to food and education for the millions of civilians of Gaza must be a fundamental policy goal.

There is no doubt Israel’s control over life in Gaza and the West Bank has had a deleterious impact on education. In 2000, over 300 Palestinians from Gaza were enrolled at Birzeit University in the West Bank; today there are none. According to the Israeli group Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, over 800 Palestinian students are currently unable to leave Gaza to pursue an education abroad.

Palestinian students in the West Bank face similar obstacles. Birzeit University’s Right To Education Campaign reports that students routinely face checkpoint delays of one to two hours while commuting to school. Among students at An-Najah University who regularly cross checkpoints in their commute, over 91 percent interviewed revealed they had missed classes due to delays, and 64 percent reported being physically abused at a checkpoint.

The right to education and other fundamental human rights must be taken into consideration when we discuss our collective engagement with Israel, whether at a government or academic level. Moreover, they must play a commanding role. If the Obama administration’s regional initiatives do not even see the imperative in removing the basic barriers impede proper education or access to food, it is difficult to see how they can adequately tackle more difficult issues. Basic rights are not issues to be debated in bilateral negotiations: they set a low bar that should be met as a precondition for any form of normalized engagement with the Israeli government.

As students at Yale Law School, we especially empathize with Azzam as she pursues her education. Recently, former Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni was honored by Yale as she delivered her Chubb Fellowship speech in the Law School. The acclamation of an Israeli leader that pursued a policy of “dieting” Palestinians into submission gives us pause to reflect on our relationship with Israeli public figures and the standards to which we hold them — and ourselves.

For Palestinians, and particularly for Gazans, barriers to seeking an education, let alone to a dignified life, are a structural facet of Israeli control. When basic human rights are violated anywhere, it is our duty to conduct ourselves responsibly as institutions and as individuals. The imperatives of politics — or academic freedom — do not require veneration of those responsible for flouting the fundamental standards to which we hold ourselves.

Itamar Mann and Isaias Tesfalidet are master’s candidates at the Law School. Jeremy Kaplan-Lyman and Yaman Salahi are first year students at the Law School.


  • Ali (2¾ minutes – UN webcast – RealPlayer)

    Here we go again…blaming Israel, not Islam, for Muslim’s education woes. They say when a street light burns out in Cairo that it is Israel’s fault.

    Is Israel also responsible for the poor education of Muslims in Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Somalia too?

  • security

    In this particular case, yes, if she had been promised not to be forced to return until a petition were heard, then what happened should not have happened. I do not, however, believe that the Israeli containment of Gaza or the heavy travel restrictions are violations of human rights. If Yalies were getting rockets launched at them from Fair Haven, and Fair Haven residents were blowing themselves up in New Haven restaurants and residential colleges, we would all be 100% in favor of heavily restricting travel in and out of Fair Haven and making sure that the flow of weaponry ceased immediately. The situation over in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank is certainly far from ideal and everyone hopes for peace, but people need to stop claiming that Israel’s actions to contain a terrorist state (Gaza is run by Hamas, a terrorist organization on the US’s list of terrorist groups) are in and of themselves violations of human rights. The right to not be blown up by terrorists is also a human right, you know.

  • Yaman

    To “Security”:

    Unfortunately you treat Azzam’s case as if it is exceptional rather than typical. The hundreds of other students forbidden from traveling do not present a security problem either. They have equally sympathetic stories, and they deserve to be considered on an individual basis rather than collectively based solely on their nationality. The issue at play here is not that the Israeli military violated its promise but that it believes it has the legitimacy or authority to deport Palestinians from one part of Palestine to another.

    Your analogy also fails. First, on the grounds that collective punishment would not be justified regardless of whether it is Israel or the residents of New Haven who are calling for it. Second, because you submit the scenario as if history began yesterday with the rockets, and not with the transformation of Gaza into a huge refugee camp to take many of the Palestinians that Israel kicked out in 1948. The disparity in power, force, and wealth is so great when it comes to Gaza and Israel that the security framework simply does not hold water. If you follow it through past the generalities, you will actually be making the claim that starving a population, depriving it of its freedom of movement, shutting all its borders, and killing thousands of its civilians is actually a legitimate response to home made rockets that have killed or injured less than a couple dozen people. It simply does not compute reasonably according to any logic, either to security or to rights.

  • security

    To Yaman:

    Your arguments are ultimately the ones that hold no water. First, you claim my New Haven analogy fails because “collective punishment would not be justified” – how would you suggest dealing with that form of major threat to security? Hope that the people who believe that blowing themselves and others up is the will of a deity will realize that they are doing the wrong thing? There is a long history of nations using embargos and containment to halt the flow of weaponry to enemies of the country. In the case of Gaza and Israel, the enemies are not the entire populace, but rather the militants (of which there are many) who desire Israel’s destruction. Israel has no option but to protect itself – the ones inflicting the “collective punishment” you speak of are the supporters of Hamas and the militants who refuse to put down their arms and allow the peace process to go forward.

    As for your second charge – that I submit the scenario as if it began yesterday – I wasn’t intending to go down the path, but for you I will. When Israel was founded, there were two separate states, but Israel was attacked by all of its neighbors and barely survived. To this day, the leaders of Hamas in Gaza refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. How can you claim that “the security framework simply does not hold water” and that the rockets “have killed or injured less than a couple dozen people” when the problem is so much greater? Hamas wants to destroy Israel and murder its citizens and has members who would have committed many more nightclub and bus bombings if they had their way – which they haven’t done precisely because of security measures. I have a hard time believing that if Hamas laid down its arms and became a positive force in the peace process, Israel wouldn’t end these restrictions and push for a two-state solution immediately. I’m not claiming that Israel couldn’t do more to allow for food and medical supplies to flow to Gaza, but I am certainly claiming that your reading of the situation is narrow-minded and heavily biased at best.

  • Ali


    “Collective punishment” is a necessary by-product of the Palestinian’s modus operandi. It is not Israel’s fault. Furthermore, the “collective punishment” is also a by-product of Islam’s intolerance, and not Israel’s fault.

    The fact that the Palestinians, nor Muslims more generally, will not accept Israel’s right to exist is the problem and cause of Israel’s actions.

    The fact that the Muslims surrounding Israel are either waging warfare against Israel, or preparing for the next war against Israel creates this situation, not Israel. Any country interested in protecting its borders and its citizens would do the same.

    What would you have Israel do. Allow the West Bank Palestinians unfettered access to anything they wanted to get their hands on? Imagine the West Bank without the checkpoints. How many rockets do you think would be aimed at Tel Aviv without the checkpoints?

    Why should Israel trust neighbors who have waged war after war against her, and who contiue to make public statements that Israel’s days in the Middle East are numbered.

    Israel sees clearly what would happen to its people without the checkpoints. They see what Hizbollah does to the Christians in Lebanon. They see what Hamas does to Fatah in Gaza. They see what Islamists do to non-Muslims and black Muslims in Sudan and Somalia. They see what Islamists do to Buddhists in Southern Thailand. They see what Islam is doing and has historically done to Hindus in SE Asia. And they remember Muslims choosing Hitler’s side in WWII.

    Israel knows what it has to do to try keeping Islma’s onslaught in check. The by-product of this policy is the “collective punishment” of people who do not always deserve it. Until Islam changes its ways I do not see how Israel has any other choice.

  • Ali


    Speaking of “collective punishment” why is the world silent about the following?

    >>The Jewish exodus from Arab lands refers to the 20th century expulsion and mass departure of Jews, primarily of Sephardi and Mizrahi background, from Arab and Islamic countries. The migration started in the late 19th century, but accelerated after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

    It is estimated that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Jews were either forced from their homes or left the Arab countries from 1948 until the early 1970s; 260,000 reached Israel between 1948-1951, and 600,000 by 1972.[1][2][3] The Jews of Egypt and Libya were expelled while those of Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and North Africa left as a result of physical and political insecurity. Most were forced to abandon their property.[2] By 2002, these Jews and their descendants constituted about 40% of Israel’s population.[3] One of the main representative bodies of this group, the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, (WOJAC) estimates that Jewish property abandoned in Arab countries would be valued today at more than $300 billion[4][5] and Jewish-owned real-estate left behind in Arab lands at 100,000 square kilometers (four times the size of the state of Israel).[1][5] The organization asserts that the Jewish exodus was the result of a deliberate policy decision taken by the Arab League.[6]<<

  • Yaman

    “Security”: I hope you will check yourself because you are making dangerously vast generalizations without providing a shred of empirical evidence. You do not speak to any of the claims we have raised in this editorial. Of course Israel’s civilians have a right to be safe and secure that is no greater or no less than Palestinian ciivlians rights to the same. Rights do not negate rights, and you have not answered how a Palestinian right to education is a threat to Israel’s security. How can we accept, according to any sound notion of morality, that there should be a presumption against all Palestinians and their intention to win an education, rather than a presumption for them which can only be challenged by concrete, solid, and specific evidence in particular cases? The issue here is that you want to punish all Palestinians and all Palestinian societies for what you call Palestinian militancy — but I contend that even if you accept the aim of fighting Palestinian militancy, it can only be fought effectively and justifiably on a specific and particular basis rather than a general one that necessarily oppresses the entire Palestinian population.

    Ali, you are introducing abstract generalities that really have little usefulness in this conversation. Broad claims about “Islam” and “Palestinians” are really so passe that I cannot believe you talk about them as if they are serious or certain.

    Ali & Security, I do not say that you agree with one another, but you are both a little too comfortable with justifying Israeli policies according to hypotheticals and generalizations about the Palestinian people, while we raise a number of serious rights violations that are substantiated in fact, and you do not offer any response to those.

  • the rivers of Babylon

    I’m of the opinion that trash should be thrown out, not printed. The YDN does a disservice by giving these views a public platform, because there is a risk that someone might take them seriously

  • security

    Yaman, debating with you is difficult because you refuse to engage anything that I write of and label them as “generalizations” without “empirical evidence.” Also, you write “even if you accept the aim of fighting Palestinian militancy” – is this to say that you support or condone Palestinian militancy and terrorism of Israeli citizens? Why would anyone not support the aim of stopping that? I would hope most members of YLS would be against militancy in any form, but perhaps that is not the case.

    If you want specific evidence, please look at
    It would be unjust for me to outline any individual incidents because of the hundreds of instances of “free moving” Palestinians blowing citizens up, stabbing and shooting Israelis simply because they are Jewish and Israeli. I do not dispute that in this particular case, the individual should have been allowed to carry out her studies. But I also claim that Israel’s security interests give it the right to greatly restrict the free movement of persons and materials to prevent the awful atrocities that have been committed by the very “Palestinian militants” and terrorists that you are so non-committal about fighting. You say that “rights do not negate rights” but what the hell does that even mean in this context? And is it not true that Hamas isin actuality the one stripping its fellow Palestinians of these rights by creating a situation in which Israel is FORCED to restrict movement?

    Finally, you say that terrorism can be “fought effectively and justifiably on a specific and particular basis” – what the heck are you talking about? Do you not understand what terrorism is? It’s the most cowardly form of violence in which people seek to avoid open confrontation, use their fellow humans as shields, and hide from the opposite side while attacking civilians. If you are such a terrorism fighting genius that you know how to figure out all the people who are terrorists and separate them from those who are not, please explain. In the end, Hamas and militant Islamism are what have brought this plight on their own people. And if you do respond to this post, don’t again be so intellectually lazy that you don’t address my points and deem them “generalities”. There are simply too many SPECIFIC dead Israelis (see that list!) to make that claim.

  • Egalitarian

    A right to an education? If an American parent who is wealthy enough to disqualify their child from financial aid decides that they’d rather spend their money on a yacht than on their child’s college education, that child can’t go to college unless they can get a merit scholarship. And someplace like Yale is completely out of the question because there are no merit scholarships here, not matter how good a student is. Does anyone claim that denying these students an education is a human rights violation?

    If a Mexican student was admitted to a university in Canada and wished to travel through the United States to get there, our government would not consider itself in any way obligated to issue a visa if it had a reason to not want that person in our country. No one would be calling this a human rights violation. I’m all for expanding access to education, but Israeli citizens have just as much a right to be free from terrorism as American citizens, and being murdered by terrorists is far more of a human rights violation than not being able to attend the college of one’s choice. This seems like yet another instance of the anti-Semitic practice of condemning Israel when no other country would be condemned for doing the same thing.

  • News Flash

    Gaza and the West Bank are not part of Israel.

  • TD ’10

    I’m with Egalitarian. Where do you find the fundamental human right to a business degree? Whether travel restrictions form effective policy is another matter. But Israel is certainly justified in making life uncomfortable for the population of Gaza.

  • Ali

    While many Palestinians attend and benefit from Israel’s excellent universities, Israelis are barred from stepping foot inside most Muslim countires for any purpose.

    Thanks to Islamists, Israelis are forced to check Palestinians when entering Israel. This includes security checks of female students, as they too have committed terrorist attacks in Israel. In stark contrast to these necessary security measures, Muslims kill school girls, kill school teachers and school principals, and often destory school buildings. Ab example of this is pasted below and is from today’s edition of Agence France-Presse.

    Philippines: Jihad against school principals
    This just in from our “This Is Why You’re Poor” Department. Allah promised paradise to those who “slay and are slain” in the cause of jihad (Qur’an 9:111), but shooting your own society in the foot is also quite popular as a consequence. “Islamic rebels behead Philippine teacher: police,” from Agence France-Presse, November 8:

    ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — The severed head of a school principal who was abducted by Islamic militants in the troubled southern Philippines was dumped in a petrol station on Monday, authorities said.
    The head of Gabriel Canizares was found inside a bag at a petrol station on Jolo island at dawn, 22 days after the 36-year-old man was kidnapped, local police chief inspector Usman Pingay said.
    His body remains missing, police said.
    Authorities had previously said militants from the Abu Sayyaf group, listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation, snatched Canizares from among a busload of teachers near the Jolo town of Patikul on October 18….