Basheer teaching youth
Basheer teaching youth.

University of Idaho professor Melissa Saul and housemate Michael Hayes, a Washington State University professor, have been instrumental in getting a resident of the Gaza Strip to WSU for spring semester.

In the end, college administrators, members of Congress, and human rights groups rallied to the cause of Abed Al Hadi Basheer, 25, who will leave Gaza for the Palouse in a few weeks with a hard-won student visa.

The young man hopes to obtain a master’s degree, as well as a Ph.D. in cultural studies and social thought in education. Afterward, he intends to return to Gaza and start a non-governmental organization working with children. Hayes who went to Gaza to help with the diplomatic complexities, said up to 100 percent of Gazan children have signs of post traumatic-stress disorder because of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Saul initially got in touch with Basheer because a class she taught did a project with one of the classes he was teaching in Gaza that involved camera equipment – students communicated with one another, and later, stayed in touch via social media.Basheer told Saul he wished to further his education in America, and she persuaded him to apply to WSU.

He was accepted, but obtaining a student visa didn’t come as easily. Hayes said most of his difficulty can be blamed on the Israeli blockade, which makes it difficult for many students to leave the country. Basheer was denied a visa at his initial interview in August because American consulate officials said he lacked proper

documentation stating he would return to Gaza after receiving his degrees.

The trip to the consulate was just over an hour via car, and those wishing to make the journey need an escort. Consulate staff functioned as his first escort, but he needed a different person to take him for his second interview to clarify plans.That’s where Hayes came in. He was finishing up a documentary in Jerusalem and his trip, which had been planned for months, happened to be during the time when Basheer required an escort.

His status as American citizen also worked in their favor, as well as the fact that Basheer will live in the household Saul and Hayes share. Surprisingly, Basheer only had to wait four days for a second interview after requesting it – Hayes said the usual waiting period is as little as 10 business days or up to a month.The policy of requiring a different escort is relatively new to the process, Hayes said, and consulate staff was “flabbergasted” Hayes was even allowed inside.

Abed Al Hadi Basheer
Abed Al Hadi Basheer

Basheer was granted a visa at the conclusion of the interview Nov. 22. Hayes said he believes Basheer’s luck with his interview date and subsequent visa approval can be attributed to correspondence to the American consulate supporting Basheer. Democratic U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell from Washington and Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane have all fought on Basheer’s behalf, as well as the WSU administration.

Collin Tong, the former senior director of communication at the WSU West office, heard about Basheer’s troubles through a friend. Tong is currently a member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and is on the board of the United Nations Association in Seattle. He

gave the WSU administration a summary of the situation, who have in turn pressed for support elsewhere.Tong said the political situation in Gaza is extremely difficult. “[Basheer is] deserving of our support,” he said, and he’s a “fine young man and a fine educator.”

He said he’s concerned with the humanitarian plight of Gazans and said

the Israeli government was making it difficult for him to exit and have an opportunity to pursue education.

John Reinke, an Amnesty International volunteer from Redmond, Wash., said they’re trying to help Basheer obtain his right to higher education. In 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, education is listed as a right to all people. He added AI does not take a stand on either side of political situations, but rather focuses on human rights violations of individuals.

Hayes said other graduate students have also sent support correspondence in an effort to ensure Basheer becomes a fellow student. He will begin his studies at WSU in January.

This article was first published in the Washington State University Moscow-Pullman Daily News and is re-printed with permission.

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