Seven Palestinian students were awarded Fulbright scholarships to study in the U.S. Israel, whose border with Gaza is closed due to its state of war with the Hamas Gazan government, refused to allow the students to enter Israel on the way to the U.S. U.S. officials put heavy pressure on Israel to allow the students to travel through Israel, including by leaking the story to the U.S. media in a manner very unflattering to Israel. Israel eventually agreed to accede to U.S. demands, including with regard to three students whom it deemed to be particular security risks. Two of the students were given passage from Gaza to the Jordanian border, and after several delays apparently caused by mistakes by U.S. consular officials, here's what happened next:
At 8 P.M., when the border crossing closes, the Israeli border terminal workers approached the U.S. diplomats and suggested they return to Gaza and try crossing the following day, after having dealt with the passport matter. "I'm not interested, I'm not moving from here until they open the bridge," said one American diplomat and sat down in the road in protest.
After consulting with the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the office of the Shin Bet chief, it was decided to leave the bridge open, until the Jordanians finally agreed to the Americans' request at 9 P.M. and allowed the Palestinians to pass. But this was not the end of the two Palestinians' travails.
The high school student remained in Amman for a few days. His friend departed for Washington on Saturday night. However, after a 12-hour flight, when he got to the border control station in Washington, an unpleasant surprise awaited him. The U.S. immigration officials informed him that his visa has been canceled and put him on a plane back to the Jordanian capital. The high school student, who was still waiting in Amman, was notified that his visa had been canceled, too. He already returned to Gaza yesterday, disappointed, while his friend remains frustrated in Jordan.
Israel has asked the State Department in Washington for some clarifications, and local officials are especially upset at the behavior of the American diplomat at the Allenby Bridge. "It's a disgrace," said a senior Foreign Ministry official. "If I had behaved that way at an American border crossing, I'd either be in jail or no longer in the U.S."
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department told The New York Times, which first reported yesterday on the revocation of the visas that the visas were canceled because of new information received by the U.S. authorities. The paper reported that Rice was unhappy about the way these cases were handled and that a thorough review had been ordered to prevent a recurrence.
"This is one of the oddest things we have encountered in recent years," an Israeli official said of a long sequence of events that began with intense American pressure to allow two young Palestinian students to leave Gaza to study in the United States and ended with the U.S. barring their entry and canceling the visas it had granted them.
Sure sounds that way. I'm especially troubled that post 9/11, the State Department was putting intense pressure on Israel to allow into the U.S. the students whom the Israelis (who, let's face it, have a much better record on these things than U.S. authorities) specifically thought had ties to terrorism and were security risks, a belief U.S. authorities apparently eventually came around to, at the last minute.