Fulbright Scholarships Restored for Gaza Students
A bureaucratic SNAFU almost cost seven Palestinian students their ability to study abroad on prestigious Fulbright scholarships.
The U.S. has reinstated the Fulbright scholarships of seven Gaza Strip students blocked by Israel from leaving the Hamas-ruled territory, the State Department said Monday. The students were informed Thursday that their scholarships for the upcoming academic year would be deferred because they couldn’t get out of Gaza, which Israel blockaded after the Islamic militants seized power a year ago.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. reversal came on orders from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who first heard about the scholarship snafu on Friday. “She wasn’t pleased,” McCormack said.
Israel and the United States have tried not to point fingers in public over the scholarship incident, but each government clearly thinks the other made mistakes early on. Israeli officials say U.S. diplomats didn’t ask for special exemptions for the Fulbright students, while U.S. officials say Israel should have recognized immediately that these were a special case. U.S. officials also blame themselves.
McCormack appeared to blame lower-level U.S. diplomats or support staff for the decision to yank the scholarships without discussing the implications with enough higher-ups. “On our side there was some decision-making that in retrospect we wouldn’t have taken,” he said. “The secretary is just pleased that it’s been fixed, or will be fixed.”
David Siegel, spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, defended Israel’s Gaza closure policy. “Hamas exploits every opportunity to send terrorists and weapons across the border, including under the guise of humanitarian cases,” Siegel said. “Israel has a strong interest in the emergence of a moderate and educated Palestinian leadership.”
One understands the Israeli trepidation about young Palestinians crossing into their territory. But even hard-liners recognize that hand selected students engaged in cross-cultural education are the last people one wants to keep out.
Thankfully, that understanding is apparently reflexive at the top of both chains of command even if there was some overzealous misapplication of regulations a few rungs down. Bureaucracies screw these kinds of things up all the time, thus the “N” in SNAFU. What’s unusual is fixing the problem so quickly.