JERUSALEM: A Palestinian included by a human rights group as one of hundreds of university students trapped in Gaza is apparently not a student and used what appeared to be a forged document to make his case to leave for Texas, The Associated Press learned on Thursday.
"Gisha," a human rights group advocating freedom of movement for Palestinians, is pressing the Israeli Supreme Court to allow university students to leave Gaza to continue their studies abroad. The group included Yaser Betar in its suit, presenting the court with a one-page document from the University of North Texas affirming that he is enrolled in a doctorate program.
But after the AP sent the document to the university, its spokeswoman replied that the document was not authentic, and Betar "is not currently enrolled at the university. He studied Engineering Technology as an undergraduate student from spring 1992 to fall 1998 and did not earn a degree."
University spokeswoman Kelley Reese wrote in an e-mail message, "The document The Associated Press shared with the University of North Texas is not a UNT document. The university repudiates the document."
University officials added that the document letterhead is no longer used there, and while the official, Rebecca Smith, whose name appears at the bottom is the correct officer, the signature is not hers.
The two-sentence body of the letter, dated March 14, 2007, attesting to Betar’s enrollment includes an error in syntax in the second sentence: "This information has been given based on his request to verify his continuous in Graduate studies."
Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, said her group would attempt to withdraw the document from the court file.
In a statement, the group said, "Gisha is investigating reports concerning the nature of Mr. Betar’s studies at the University of North Texas. Questions about those studies should not detract from the just cause of hundreds of students seeking to leave Gaza to study abroad — and the need to allow them to do so."
Gisha spokeswoman Noga Eitan said Betar insists that the document is authentic and that he is enrolled in the university’s doctorate program.
Israel has banned most Palestinians from leaving Gaza since the Islamic militant Hamas took over the territory in June, expelling forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has explained its general ban on security grounds but has pledged to solve the students’ exit problem.
A brief interview with Betar was included in an Associated Press report about the students issue on Wednesday but deleted after the university repudiated his document. Human rights groups say 670 students, including more than 30 enrolled in U.S. universities, are trapped in Gaza.