The U.S. state department has cancelled the visas of the 3 remaining Palestinian scholars set to study in the States citing unspecified security concerns.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the 3 remaining Palestinian scholars from the Gaza Strip who had been cleared to study abroad under the Fulbright scholarship program have been turned back today.
One of the students was informed upon his arrival in Dulles International Airport outside Washington that his visa had been cancelled and was forced to return to Amman, Jordan, where he remains waiting to return to Gaza.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos had this to say about the revocations: “There were four Palestinians who were issued visas about whom we then received additional information. We decided that we needed to take a closer and harder look at them in light of the additional information we received." The fourth Palestinian about whom Gallegos referred being another Gazan student who was to travel to the United States under a different program.
The students have seen their chances of studying under the program face a number of exceptional hurdles in the past few months. The U.S. government does not recognize the legitimacy of the democratically elected Hamas government, and it does not keep a consul in the strip. The 7 eligible students were to travel to Jerusalem for interviews, but were subsequently denied entry visas into that country. Their applications were then withdrawn.
Israel maintains a permanent ban on Gazan students leaving the strip to continue their educations abroad as a part of its ongoing 2-year-old siege of Gaza.
In June, as a result of the direct intervention of U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, the scholarships were reinstated and 4 of the students were cleared to travel to Jerusalem for interviews, and subsequently entered the program. Rice issued a statement in conjunction declaring the Fulbright program an important part of U.S. foreign policy.
In another unprecedented move, a U.S. delegation traveled to the border of Gaza to conduct the remaining 3 interviews and subsequently cleared the students’ visas, against strong opposition by the Israeli government.
Then, on Monday, their plans were frustrated again as the American Consulate in Jerusalem sent letters to the 2 students in Gaza informing them that, “information has come to light that you may be inadmissible to the United States.” This, along with the deportation of the student who had already left back to Jordan, was a significant step backwards in the process for the students, who have not yet been given any information as to why they are under suspicion or the right to refute any of the secret charges.
The visas were cancelled under a ‘prudential revocation’ clause that gives the U.S. state department the right to revoke visas at any time if they receive ‘new information’ about the holders.