The continuing embarrassing saga of the Gaza Fulbright scholars took yet a new twist today as the U.S., responding to unspecified evidence provided by Israel, revoked visas already approved for the remaining three of seven such scholars who’d originally been refused by Israel.
The problem with incidents of this type is that countries do not have to provide reasons for such decisions. However, since the Fulbright program is involved and Condi Rice had made noises about the important role the scholarship program played in U.S. foreign policy and the bad signal the original cancellation sent to the Arab world, one would think the U.S. might explain itself. The best they could do so far is this:
…The American Consulate in Jerusalem sent letters to Mr. Abed and the two other grantees still in Gaza saying “information has come to light that you may be inadmissible to the United States,” and therefore their visas were being revoked. In Washington, Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, declined to get into specifics, but said that the visas were revoked because “we got more information” about the grantees.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that…the latest information about the three Palestinians was enough to give pause but that “we really have to scrub it and are now going to take a good look to see if it holds.”
At this rate, the U.S. is lucky that any Gaza students have an interest in studying in this country. Certainly, the Israeli “evidence” is designed to promote obstacles for Palestinians to study abroad. It is not in Israel’s interests for Gazans to do so. God only knows what academic knowledge and expertise they might bring back with them to improve the lot of their fellow Gazans when they return. Who knows what new theories they might advance, new businesses they might create, new political ideas they might implant? It’s all certainly too much for Israel, which prefers an impoverished, poorly educated society as one that is supposedly easier to dominate.
What is saddening is that the U.S. State Department has played right into Israel’s hand. Should State have accepted Israel’s information at face value? What is the value of a declaration by the Israeli Shin Bet that a Palestinian is a security risk? Look at the unproven charges used to smear Azmi Bishara and the daft reasons used to ban Norman Finkelstein from Israel. If I were Condi, I’d be asking for more evidence than Colin Powell received from the CIA before he vouched for the fact that Iraq had WMD.
And we should also look to the flimsy evidence WE have used to ban such troublesome figures as Tariq Ramadan and others from this country. This is the problem when a country becomes a national security state as Israel and the Bush Administration are. In such a situation, rumors become fact and it takes little for a citizen to cast suspicion upon him or herself.
These Palestinian young people are learning a lesson from this–that the U.S. is not to be trusted, that it is little better than Israel in fabricating reasons to suspect Palestinians. Such lessons last a lifetime, and not just in those of the specific victims, but in the lifetimes of young Palestinian children who would be the Fulbright applicants of the future. At this rate, we’ll be lucky next year if ANY Palestinian wants to apply. And we wonder why Arabs hate us.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.