/ 20 October 2008

‘What hope is there for the future?’

Born into a place of poverty and conflict, Zohair Abu Shaban (24) has one ambition that would raise him above the hardship around him: he wants to be a professor of electrical engineering.

For most young men born and raised in Gaza City this might seem an impossible dream. No university in Gaza offers any degree above undergraduate level and only the area’s top university — the Islamic University — runs an electrical engineering course.

Abu Shaban took the course and came first in his year. Then he won a Fulbright scholarship to study for a master’s at the University of Connecticut in the United States. But he had first to get out of Gaza and it is that challenge that has all but undone his dream.

Last year Israel declared Gaza a “hostile entity” after Hamas seized control there. Israel closed the crossings out of Gaza and students were unable to leave. In May the US state department told the seven Fulbright scholars from Gaza their scholarships were cancelled, until Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intervened. In the end, three of the seven reached the US and began studying. Abu Shaban and two others had their visas cancelled, for unspecified reasons.

Frustrated but not deterred, he won a place to begin a master’s at Imperial College London and was told to arrive for his course by October 4. But Israel has refused to allow him out of Gaza.

“Peace only comes from education and if you steal education from the youth I don’t know what future there is,” Abu Shaban said.

After the Fulbright case Israel allowed about 70 students to leave. Israel’s foreign ministry said the restrictions would remain as long as Gaza was ruled by Hamas. —