Not many people in the Gaza Strip spend their time thinking about Utah’s Great Salt Lake. I have been dreaming of it for months. This year, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Utah to study in the department of civil and environmental engineering. Palestinians in Gaza suffer from critical water and environmental contamination problems. I planned to focus my Utah education on water resources and environmental engineering so that I could return home and help to alleviate these problems. But I will not be attending this fall. On the basis of secret evidence conveyed by the Israeli government, my American visa was canceled.
I am a scientist dedicated to advancing the well-being of the Palestinian people. Yet despite playing by the educational rules and excelling in the academic arena, I am being hurt by an Israeli government that has bottled Palestinians up in Gaza rather than allowing them to pursue opportunities abroad. Hundreds of students in Gaza have been accepted to foreign universities but are nonetheless prevented from attending by Israel.
After Hamas won elections supported by the Bush administration, Israel put financial restrictions on Gaza and then imposed a devastating embargo in June 2007. While Israel claims it no longer occupies the Gaza Strip, this is belied by Israel’s control over our land exits, airspace and seaport. Our economy has been pulverized by the embargo and by Israeli military airstrikes. We are encaged here — 1.5 million people collectively punished for the results of a democratic election whose results Israel rejects.
My dream of a first-rate American education in a Ph.D. program may well be over. Financially, I do not have the means to pursue an education without the help of a scholarship. Unemployment here is 45 percent. A Fulbright scholarship is an extraordinary lifeline extended by the United States.
I have spent my life learning or teaching others. I have been a model student and example of high academic achievement for younger Palestinian students. Such students, including two of my own younger brothers, will surely grow doubts about the worth of pursuing higher education when they see Fulbright scholars being denied entry to the United States on grounds obviously trumped up by the Israeli government.
The Great Salt Lake and unusual Utah environment were particularly enticing to me. Having never been to the Dead Sea, because Israeli travel restrictions make the short trip practically impossible, I looked forward to learning about a salt lake thousands of miles away.
It’s the water contamination in Gaza, however, that draws me to Utah and the expertise of the university’s professors. Israel’s settlers, illegally occupying our land in the Gaza Strip, used a disproportionate amount of water until their departure in 2005. But most of the salinity in our water supply is, in fact, a consequence of Israel’s confining a million refugees to this narrow strip of land. Additionally, Israel’s cutting of our electrical supply leads to waste water not being properly treated. Through a Ph.D. at the University of Utah, I hoped to expand my expertise and help solve Gaza’s acute water pollution. My individual loss, however, is part and parcel of Israel’s decision to keep Gaza impoverished and ill-educated.
My people long for their freedom, and our young people champ at the bit when limited to a spit of land 25 miles long and six miles wide. Education and travel provide our students with tremendous opportunities to learn and return to contribute to the well-being of the Palestinian people. A remarkable program is now faltering on account of Israeli policies.
OSAMA DAWOUD, a Fulbright scholar accepted to the University of Utah, currently lives in the Gaza Strip.