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‘Maybe it’s better not to dream,’ says Gaza student stopped at border

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154477_10152561512075931_1224109146_nIn Gaza — or the biggest prison, as its people like to call it — one can see signs of frustration and despair in every corner, since leaving or returning is forbidden, except with the permission of either the Egyptians or the Israelis.

Gaza has two main border crossings for travelers: the Egyptian Rafah gate and the Israeli Erez terminal. At Rafah, only those with permission to receive medical care outside and travelers (mostly students) who have managed to obtain foreign visas are allowed to leave, said Maher Abu Sabha, director of crossings in the Hamas government.

At Erez, the situation is no better. As one friend, Sarah, explained after she lost a chance to participate in a translation workshop in Jordan: “Despite the fact that I had permission from Jordan, I was denied permission from Israeli authorities to travel because they said I was not a humanitarian case.”

Mohammed Albaz

Albaz, 18, lives in a refugee camp in southern Gaza and has dreams of pursuing his studies abroad. He borrowed money to be able to take the required tests, such as the TOEFL and SAT.

“My hard work paid off, and I earned a scholarship to an American honors college in Dubai,” he says. “Although it’s not a full scholarship, I wrote letters asking supporters to fund me and I just barely managed it. I applied for my visa, and finally got after 85 days. Other students going to the same country but who live outside of Gaza got their visas in just four days.”

However, even after getting his visa, there were more obstacles to come. Although he obtained permission to enter Jordan, from which he planned to fly to Dubai, he still was required to get a permit to cross through Israel on the way there – a process that typically takes three weeks – if it’s successful. Time was passing, and he was dangerously close to the start of classes. Most students in Mohammed’s school had already arrived on Aug. 15. Spending a couple of nights at the crossing point was an ultimate torture for him. “It made me realize that I am not the only case; I saw hopes being crashed in the solid rock of our harsh reality and mine was next.”

Albaz’s school cooperated with him as much as it could, since the administrators knew what he faced. However, classes have started now, and Albaz realizes he may have to start all over and apply again next year. His college may give him another chance next year, but acceptance again is far from certain; there are no promises.

“Maybe it’s better not to dream,” Albaz says. “That’s better than seeing your plans get smashed into pieces.”

Manar Alzray

Albaz still has a sliver of hope. Others do not. Alzray, 23, is a recent graduate with honours in English language and education. “I, living in a refugee camp, am the oldest of seven girls and also have a young brother. My family is typically Gazan; my father’s monthly paycheck runs out in the middle of the month. We barely managed to fulfill the demands of Ramadan and university. My family supported my quest to study outside, since they believe I will set the path for my siblings.”

For Alzray, of all the challenges she has faced in the Gaza Strip, the Rafah crossing is definitely the worst.

Alzray was accepted by the University of Edinburgh but did not receive the necessary funding. She also received an offer from Trent University to study theory, culture and politics. “I was granted nearly 62,000 Canadian dollars from the Daughters for Life Foundation and Trent University to cover my two of years study. Applying to both Edinburgh and Trent was not easy.”

Alzray tried to submit her visa application online, since she could not reach the Canadian embassy in Cairo due to the closing of Rafah in the wake of Egypt’s political strife. “The requirement that held me back, however, was the fee of 125 Canadian dollars. I contacted the people in charge of the scholarship and they kindly paid the necessary fees from Canada and sent me the receipt by email.”

Unfortunately, the program on which the online application process was based experienced an internal server failure and submission stalled. There seemed to be no solution.

“My first semester at Trent started at the beginning of September and I could not get there on time. Yet, I have not lost hope,” says Alzray, who has received some of the best grades and test scores in Gaza. “My application to Edinburgh has been pushed to next year, and I am currently applying to Oxford University and the University of Cambridge as well. Next year, I am determined to be in Britain. I will have a pocket full of money and I will hold my head up high. I will be happy, and so will my parents. In 10 years, I will be telling my children this story and laugh at the hard times.”

It is this spirit that will be needed for hope to stay alive in Gaza. But there is a point when everyone breaks. When will it come for us?

Malaka Mohammed
About Malaka Mohammed

Malaka Mohammed is a Palestinian student from Gaza doing a PhD in Palestine Studies at Exeter University. Follow her on Twitter @MalakaShwaikh.

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25 Responses

  1. Mike_Konrad
    September 23, 2013, 2:08 pm

    This is sad, no one can deny that.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      September 23, 2013, 2:56 pm

      “This is sad, no one can deny that.”

      This is not merely “sad”, it is a crime that these governments are committing against the Gazan people, primary among them the zionists who are engaged in their demonic blockade of the Gazan people.

    • talknic
      September 23, 2013, 9:58 pm

      Mike_Konrad “This is sad, no one can deny that”

      I have no doubt some will. BTW ‘this’ has happened EVERY DAY of EVERY young Palestinian’s life for generations. It’s indicative of what Israel has been doing for over six decades, more than half a century.

  2. yrn
    September 23, 2013, 2:35 pm

    I guess MW aims this article for readers that never heard about and read the names Egypt, Gaza, Israel for the first time.
    As “Gaza has two main border crossings for travelers: the Egyptian Rafah gate and the Israeli Erez terminal.”
    Meaning, Gaza Neighbors country’s are equivalent.
    Like Luxembourg border with Germany and France
    Meaning, there is NO difference between the relationship and the situation between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza in Israel.
    So for those who read it for the first time
    Gaza and Egypt – Egypt is an Arab Muslim Country, supposed to be the real “brothers” and protector of Gaza, till last also shared the same “Muslim Brotherhood” Agenda, Egypt from 1948 is supposed to be the saver of the Palestinians in Gaza and fight their war against Israel and bring them back to the land of Israel.
    Gaza and Israel – since 1948 there is a WAR situation between those two entities.
    Israel and the Hamas regime are in a state of war till today and is considered to be the regime that want’s Israel out of the region.

    So now readers, you can understand how “different” the situation between the relationships between those entities.

    • talknic
      September 24, 2013, 7:05 pm

      yrn “As “Gaza has two main border crossings for travelers: the Egyptian Rafah gate and the Israeli Erez terminal.”

      Read the 2005 agreement … Israel as the Occupying Power, has final say who when and what passes through ALL crossings and observers are accommodated in Israel. If they’re prevented by Israel from reaching Rafah, the crossing remains closed.

      Furthermore under the Egypt Israel Peace treaty Egypt is obliged to prevent anything detrimental to Israel from crossing Egyptian borders.

      “Like Luxembourg border with Germany and France”

      Problem … neither are occupied. Gaza is. Israel controls its airspace, borders and territorial waters.

      • yrn
        September 25, 2013, 10:47 am

        “Like Luxembourg border with Germany and France”
        Gaza is not occupied and you don’t understand that there is peace between Luxembourg Germany and France.
        While there is a WAR between the Hamas regime in Gaza and Israel.

      • Hostage
        September 25, 2013, 1:11 pm

        Gaza is not occupied

        FYI, Israel doesn’t decide what its obligations are under international law with respect to Gaza. The majority of other state parties to the Hague and Geneva Conventions still consider Gaza to be occupied territory.

        The Hague Convention of 1907 simply stipulates that “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” Your government is still conducting a military blockade and closure of the land crossings of the entire territory and allowing the IDF to fire on Gaza’s farmers and fishing boats in so-called “exclusion zones” inside Gaza’s perimeter and the State of Palestine’s territorial waters.

        Israel’s armed forces have strict legal obligations under the Hague and Geneva Conventions any time they conduct operations like the ones described above against the territory of another state and members of a protected civilian population are present or can become wounded or taken as prisoners.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        September 25, 2013, 1:15 pm

        “Gaza is not occupied”

        Sigh. Yes it is.

        I’d like to make a motion that, along with Holocaust denial and Nakba denial, that “occupation denial” (which is really just a subset of Nakba denial) should be grounds for banning.
        Can I get a second???

      • Bumblebye
        September 25, 2013, 3:59 pm

        Excellent idea!
        I’m for it.

      • MHughes976
        September 25, 2013, 4:20 pm

        We don’t get much Nakba denial, to my mind, but we get quite a lot of what amounts to Nakba justification, which is worse.

  3. Walid
    September 23, 2013, 2:46 pm

    Some of those kids were interviewed on TV this morning. I wrote about their sad plight earlier today and the worst of it is their losing their scholarships if they can’t exit Gaza in time for the begining of classes.

  4. just
    September 23, 2013, 4:03 pm

    ““Maybe it’s better not to dream,” Albaz says. “That’s better than seeing your plans get smashed into pieces.””

    Oh NO! Don’t let them take your dreams away from you– otherwise, you truly have nothing, and they have won. The resilience of the Palestinian people is truly awesome and worthy of much respect.

    Thank you Malaka. Hopefully, the world is finally awakening to the horror of the cruel Occupation whose noose tightens everyday, and will “come for you”– to rescue you from the unconscionable Occupiers. In particular, the US. Enough is enough– it was “enough” many decades ago.

  5. Pam
    September 23, 2013, 4:13 pm

    You can do something to help students like these! Sign and share this petition: Once we get to 10,000 (we’re almost at 6,000 now), we will deliver the signatures to Egyptian ambassadors worldwide…

  6. ritzl
    September 23, 2013, 4:32 pm

    I’d say hop on a well-marked boat to Cypress. What would the Israelis do, kill peaceful students trying to get to classes? Oh yeah, they would. Nevermind.

    I know it’s easy for me to say, but please don’t give up.

  7. Obsidian
    September 23, 2013, 5:09 pm

    Israel sends 70 truckloads of construction material to Gaza after Egypt closes tunnels.

    • Citizen
      September 24, 2013, 4:01 am

      @ Obsidian
      Yep. They are playing a version of “Good cop, Bad cop.” Egypt gets more PR support for its military government from #AIPAC et al, Israel gets more PR as the saviour of those it imprisons in the open air. Israel’s “diet” for the people of Gaza remains intact.

  8. Hostage
    September 23, 2013, 6:45 pm

    It takes a great deal of both malice and forethought to commit a crime against innocent third parties, while claiming compensation for the same offense from others on your own behalf.

    Claims Conference: Germany agrees to make payment to Moroccan Jews whose freedom of movement was curtailed by Axis powers. —

    “Restriction of freedom of movement was a efficient tool to control the Jewish population in Germany and areas under its authority, said Chairman of the Claims Conference Julius Berman. He added that by clarifying this with the German prosecution they have managed to receive recognition for the people that suffered under German prosecution.” —,7340,L-4061166,00.html

    • just
      September 23, 2013, 6:54 pm

      Thanks Hostage.

      Another in a long list of hypocrisies.

    • Citizen
      September 24, 2013, 4:18 am

      It takes chutzpah. Dick and Jane think that’s a weird word for being cute in some way they con’t understand but their betters laugh at the joke, whatever it is.

  9. Mayhem
    September 23, 2013, 7:03 pm

    If Gaza is the biggest prison then Hamas are the prison’s wardens.

  10. Hostage
    September 23, 2013, 8:01 pm

    Another in a long list of hypocrisies.

    Remember the Haavara Agreement:

    According to the law, which went into effect about two weeks ago, it is a criminal offense punishable by three months in jail for migrants to move their money out of Israel. To assist a migrant in doing so carries a jail sentence of one year.

    So you can keep their money in Israel and ship the refugees off to Uganda or elsewhere in exchange for lower cost subsidized weapons.

    • benedict
      September 23, 2013, 8:26 pm


      The law refers to taking the money out of Israel without the migrant leaving.

  11. Hostage
    September 24, 2013, 5:29 pm


    The law refers to taking the money out of Israel without the migrant leaving.

    So would you support similar laws against the Israeli businesses and industrial zones in Palestine taking their money out of that country?

  12. benedict
    September 24, 2013, 6:32 pm


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