22-year-old Oxford student has not been able to see her family in Gaza since 2013
LONDON – Rawan Yaghi left Palestine in 2013 to follow her dream of a better education at the UK’s Oxford University. She has not seen her family since, because Israel is preventing her from re-entering the isolated enclave of Gaza.
Yaghi, 22, was studying in The Islamic University of Gaza when applied for a scholarship at Oxford. She said she could not believe her eyes when she read the acceptance letter in Oxford University, ranked third in the list of the best global universities by The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015.
“I was really, really happy. I didn’t believe it. I thought I misread the letter at first so I read it again and again,” she told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
Speaking in the yard outside Jesus College in Oxford, where she is in her third and final year of an Italian linguistics degree, she said her parents were really happy and proud of her.
The illustrious college established by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571 boasts former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Thomas Edward Lawrence, more popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, amongst its graduates.
But even at the time Yaghi’s family believed there could be trouble ahead: “My parents started crying and after that they just began feeling anxious about me going away for such a long time. Especially with the borders issue, you never know when you can get out and when you can get in.”
– One-way journey
“I haven’t been in Gaza since I came here. I tried to go in 2014, in the summer, but then the attacks started in Gaza,” Yaghi said, referring to Israel’s offensive in July 2014.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza in response to rocket attacks from the enclave. The military action resulted in more than 2,160 Palestinian deaths, mostly civilian.
“My family was not hurt, [but] I have friends who have lost family members, who have lost their homes. I guess everyone in Gaza was psychologically damaged,” Yaghi says.
She tried to reach Gaza to see her family at the time by coming through Jordan, but was turned away. British consular officials who originally helped her leave the territory for the university lobbied again on her behalf, she said, but were told by Israeli authorities that she would not be allowed to leave if she was permitted entry.
Yaghi tried again this summer: “The British consulate decided to help me again but Israel didn’t respond to them so they couldn’t do anything.”
“I applied by myself for a permit to go home, and they just didn’t reply to it. I waited in Jordan for about a month-and-a-half and I didn’t hear from anyone,” she said.
Gaza has been under an all-out Israeli blockade since 2007 while Egypt’s border crossing with the territory is only opened sporadically, meaning the territory’s nearly 1.9 million residents are deprived of their most basic needs.
Six civilian ships in a humanitarian aid flotilla were attacked in international waters by Israeli forces on May 31, 2010, as they tried to break the Gaza blockade. Eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish origin were killed in a raid on one of the ships in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara.
The Israeli Embassy in London was not able to respond to Anadolu Agency’s request for a comment before going to press on Monday.
– Keep strong
In a message for Gaza’s young people, Yaghi urged them “to be strong and keep trying”.
“Work hard and no matter how hard it gets in Gaza, no matter how discriminated against they feel, they should never feel less human than anyone else and that they deserve everything that life can give them,” she said.
She is planning to be involved in the BDS campaign, the global movement that aims to use sanctions and boycotts to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of Palestinian territories.