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October 2, 2017 3:56 pm

Story on Gaza Student ‘Denied’ Education Visa Is Riddled With Distortions

avatar by Adam Levick

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The Israel-Gaza Strip border. Photo: Mary Madigan via Wikimedia Commons.

A September 27th article in the Independent by Bethan McKernan claims that a 28-year-old Palestinian student named Mohammed Awad was due to begin a masters program at the University of London — but may have to forfeit his place because of an “Israeli delay in approving his travel papers.”

Awad, who hails from Jabalia, north of Gaza City, is quoted as expressing his frustration at the “red tape and lengthy delays” at COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) — which is responsible for processing his application.

However, we contacted COGAT to inquire about the travel visa, and they responded by emphatically denying the Indy’s version of what occurred. A COGAT spokesperson told us that Awad’s application was approved for travel on November 14 — the exact date requested by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee. Though the article was updated (at some point after it was first published) to note a response by COGAT confirming that Awad’s application had been “submitted” for travel on November 14th, McKernan failed to make clear that it was, in fact, “approved.”

The headline accompanying McKernan’s article is even more misleading. It not only fails to reflect the reply from COGAT, but actually claims that Awad’s application was “denied” — despite the fact that the article doesn’t make this claim.

Additionally, the Indy piece asserts that Awad had previously “missed the chance to study in France in 2014 because of a delayed COGAT decision, as well as a professional development course in the West Bank last year.” But this too was denied by COGAT in an email to UK Media Watch. According to a COGAT spokesperson, this was his first such request.

Near the end of the article, McKernan includes a quote from an “expert” named Garry Spedding:

In a letter to MPs urging them to intervene in Mr Awad’s case, Gary Spedding, a cross-party consultant on Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said he could not “stress enough” “the value of bringing Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly that of the Gaza Strip, over to the United Kingdom for studies.”

McKernan obfuscates the fact that Garry Spedding is hardly an objective “consultant.” He’s a well-known pro-Palestinian activist, who founded a group called Palestine Solidarity Society at Queen’s University in Belfast. Spedding was deported from Israel in 2014 due to his reported involvement in organizing a protest at Queen’s, in which an Israeli official was attacked.

Further down in the article, the Indy contextualises COGAT’s  putative delay of Awad’s travel request by alleging that “permission to leave Gaza is notoriously difficult to obtain for the enclave’s two million residents” — an Israeli process characterized by McKernan as “Kafkaesque.”

However, the statistics (provided to us by COGAT) tell a completely different story.

  • In 2014, 65,539 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip to Israel.
  • In 2015, 103,784 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip to Israel.
  • In 2016, 99,864 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip to Israel.
  • In the first quarter of 2017, 39,219 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip to Israel.
Somehow, since 2014, more than 300,000 Palestinians have managed to navigate this “Kafkaesque” process. And finally, in a perfect example of the advocacy journalism that routinely compromises the media’s objectivity in covering the conflict, here’s how McKernan ended her “news article”:
We’ve lodged an official complaint with Indy editors over the misleading and false claims in the article.
The writer covers the British media for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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