US Abruptly Cuts Millions in Scholarships to Palestinian Students In Between Semesters

Published January 28th, 2019 - 11:16 GMT
American University of Beirut (AUB)
American University of Beirut (AUB)

 

 

On Jan 23, a representative from the U.S. government-funded Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a body that awards full scholarships to students from the Middle East, told a gathering of Palestinian recipients from the American University of Beirut AUB) that their funding was being cut off, effective Jan 31.

The passage of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act at the end of 2018 has mandated organizations like MEPI to halt funding for initiatives that benefit people from Gaza and the West Bank by Feb 1, when the law goes into effect.

The decision primarily affects AUB, the Lebanese American University (LAU) and the American University of Cairo (AUC).

As of press time, AUB is the only university that has committed to finding alternate means of funding Palestinian students’ educations. Others are now being forced to consider dropping out and returning home with no guarantee they will be able to finish their degrees.

The Trump Administration has steadily cut U.S. funding for programs aimed at providing aid and services to Palestinians, including to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of which the U.S. was formerly its biggest donor.

The abrupt announcement has sent shockwaves of panic and uncertainty for dozens of Palestinian scholars: many recall being horrified that funding for their education was being used as a political tool.

 

A Sudden Decision, and Uncertain Future

 

 

AUB and LAU were told by representatives of MEPI that the scholarship would no longer be available for Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, and that funding for current Palestinians’ studies will be ended.

AUB demanded an official from MEPI come to the university’s campus and inform the MEPI recipient students in person.

“It was then that I was informed of one of the worst news I have ever been affected by. My Palestinian friends and I have been cut from the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative – Tomorrow’s Leaders scholarship,” recalls Jude Al Qalawi, a scholarship recipient, in a lengthy Facebook post detailing the meeting and its aftermath.

“The scholarship of my dreams. The one I spent all my academic life trying to land, and when I did I had rested knowing I’ve made it… and now they cut any form of higher education aid to Palestinians; one being the scholarship I am a part [sic] of,” she added.

“Hearing this deprived me of hope, vision, goals and potential. I had felt like I am done trying with this world. It felt as though, wherever I went, wherever I tried, the life will be sucked out of me for being, what I feel so honored to call myself, Palestinian.”

Al Qalawi is from Jerusalem and is currently in her first year of studies at AUB. She spoke to Al Bawaba about the funding cut and the implicit message it sent to her and other Palestinian students. "With the choice of country to cut funding for under the name of the [Anti] Terrorist Clarification Act is very discriminative and hard to swallow," she said.

She is now faced with the stark reality that her education is threatened, " because the world deems me as a terrorist."

 

An AUB classroom sits empty (Mohammad Hijazi/Mind Soup)

When reached for comment by Al Bawaba, Martin Asser, Associate Vice President for Communications for AUB said there is no final plan yet as to how the university will pay for the its imperiled Palestinian students’ tuition and living costs. “AUB is exploring different options, including seeking donations,” Asser explained.

“It will not dip into the $38.5 million currently made available in financial aid given annually to needy and deserving students.”

The current estimate is that AUB will require $1.2 million for 15 Palestinian students to fill the gap in funding the U.S.’ decision is leaving.

 

 

“My other Palestinian friends attending LAU, have not yet received confirmation regarding guaranteed assistance until they graduate but till the end of this semester,” the student wrote.

“They might have to leave. The right to education, futures and dreams have just been completely destroyed by one simple move made by the United States and for them being Palestinian.”

 

Marginalizing Palestinians in Search of a Partnership with Israel

Protesters organize a rally decrying Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (AFP/FILE)

In the wake of Trump’s strategy to pressure the Palestinians to enter negotiations, a slow burning human rights catastrophe is brewing.

Since his inauguration, Trump has sought to solidify the U.S.’ strategic alliance with Israel, and has done so by methodically cutting U.S. contributions to organizations and initiatives that help Palestinians.

His first move towards Israel was his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017. Immediately after news of the decision broke, spontaneous protests broke out in the West Bank and Jordan.

Shortly thereafter, Trump announced the U.S. would no longer be funding UNRWA, a U.N. agency that provides education, psychosocial support and other health services to millions of Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon among others. It is widely seen as a crucial entity to support the livelihood of Palestinians. Trump’s decision to end payments sent shockwaves through the international community.

UNRWA has since been forced to downsize, laying off hundreds of employees in regular intervals, which have in turn sparked general strikes from UNRWA employees.

 

 

More cuts from Trump have affected programs funded by the U.S.’  Agency for International Development (USAID). Food programs that fed tens of thousands in Gaza and the West Bank are being halted or slowed. Infrastructure, health and education projects have all been abandoned.

"The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale," Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement regarding the funding cuts. "There is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation. The U.S. administration has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation."

The recently passed Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) is aimed against U.S. governmental funds going towards Palestinian groups. The MEPI scholarship, which has fully funded dozens of ambitious Palestinian scholars since its launch in 2007 by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Assistance Coordination, was forced to quickly comply with the new law.

That means dozens of Palestinian students who assumed their education would be fully covered by the prestigious scholarship may now be forced to return to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza, with no prospect to continue their education or leave to go abroad again.

“The kids from Gaza had signed a contract saying that they are not allowed to return to this open air prison until August,” Al Qalawi wrote on Facebook.

“Them going back, may never guarantee them another chance of escaping and a chance at life. This was when I broke [sic] down. I truly cannot even imagine the waiting, hopelessness and pain that they’re experiencing right now.”

At the time of publication Al Bawaba has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut for comment, but has received none.


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