Student challenges Gaza lockdown in court

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian student urgently trying to get back to Bradford University has become the first test case of new restrictions on movements in and out of Gaza since Israel identified it as "hostile territory"this week.

The Israeli Supreme Court is to hear a petition tomorrow brought on behalf of Khaled Mudallal, 22, a British-educated business and management student who risks losing his third year if he does not return to Bradford next week.

The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha, which is bringing tomorrow's case, is arguing that new restrictions which have so far prevented several hundred Palestinian students from Gaza to return to courses abroad is a violation of international law.

The students were trapped in Gaza by the closure of the Rafah crossing into Egypt in June as fighting erupted between Fatah and Hamas which ended with Hamas's takeover of the Strip. The Rafah crossing has remained closed.

Until last week, Israel was agreeing to let students out through the northern Erez crossing into Israel and then bussing them to the Nitzana crossing from Israel into Egypt from which they were able to make their way to courses abroad.

This week, however, this procedure was halted and on Wednesday the Israeli security cabinet sanctions announced that "restrictions will be ... placed on movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip" as part of its policy of declaring Gaza "hostile territory", following rocket attacks into Israel, and putting further pressure on Hamas. Restrictions on movement were already very heavy and Israel has for example barred Palestinian students in Gaza from taking courses in the West Bank or Israel itself. But it had adopted a more lenient policy towards students on accredited courses abroad.

Mr Mudallal, who arrived in his home town of Rafah on 6 June had only intended to stay for a few days to collect his new wife, Duaa, and take her back to Britain. He and his wife – who graduated with distinction this year from university in Gaza and also hopes to study in Britain – have UK residence permits valid to November 2010.

Mr Mudallal's problems are compounded by having missed his first semester exams earlier in the year after he was delayed for two months by the closure of Rafah when he returned to Gaza in December 2006 to get married.

Although he arrived back half-way through the second semester he passed all his second semester exams and the university told him he would be able to carry on with his third year provided he first completed his first semester exams, as he intended to do at the start of the academic year next week. Gisha is pressing the Israeli military to let him leave through the Erez crossing.

Mr Mudallal, who did his GCSEs and A levels at Bradford Technology College while his parents were living in the city, said yesterday: "It's a disaster for me. If I cannot take the exams I may have to take another year and I don't know whether the university will let me do that."

Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that Israeli closures and roadblocks in the West Bank had increased by 52 per cent to 572 since August 2005, despite repeated calls to reduce them.

The Israeli Defence minister and Labour leader, Ehud Barak, recently promised the US to reduce the present total by 24 as a possible first step towards alleviating restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank.