Ahmed al-Mughari (in my post a few days ago I spelled it Ma'ari, following English press accounts) studied English in Gaza for two years as part of a program administered by AmidEast, "a private, nonprofit organization with a mission of strengthening mutual understanding and cooperation between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa." Talented students from Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, as well as Yemen, Kuwait, and Egypt, etc., are nominated when they are about 13 or 14 years old to participate. The students study about 150 hours of general English language, 40 hours academic writing, 30 hours, conversation, and 20 hours public speaking. Classes are on Fridays or during vacations, and are in addition to the students' regular schooling. Mind you, Friday is the only day off from class in the Muslim world, so this means that students give up their break from school to participate in their program, which is well-liked. Friday is, of course, the Muslim sabbath, and attending the program means, for some boys, missing their Sabbath meal with the family. But they do it because they are excited about learning English.
It is a year long program, but Ahmed was lucky and was allowed to spend a second year in the program.
When Ahmed finished his second year, he applied to AmidEast to study in America and to live with an American family. Details of the exchange program, called, YES (Youth Exchange and Study Program), can be found here.
The world pictures Gaza as a dysfunctional, overpopulated, hellhole, run by fanatical Muslim fundamentalists, with armed thugs and terrorists roaming the streets. Maybe this is too detailed a picture; most Israelis, if they think of Gaza at all, see it as a miserable place where terrorists who are trying to destroy Israel live.
That somebody like Ahmed could grow up in a place like Gaza seems incomprehensible to many Israelis. That Gaza could be home to doctors, lawyers, and university professors, seems as incomprehensible. Such is the power of prejudice and stereotypes.
Recently, I received a letter from Ahmed that I would like to share with you. I am not editing it in any way.
I'm very appreciated for you and your huge efforts in seeking to give me a last chance in order to come back to my program.
My name is AHMED AL MAGHARI. I'm 16 and I'm Palestinian as you know.
At first, I'm going to provide you some details about my program(YES program), YES it is abbreviation for ( Youth and Exchange Study). It's a global program for exchange students all over the world for bridging cultures and building understanding among the people in the world.
I succeed in this program believing in my self and believing a better education and a better place to live in, but unfortunately, they destroyed my only hope for a better future, however I still insist to travel in any way. In addition, this problem effected me in a very negative way, I felt that I disappointed all my friends and my family's hopes. Moreover, a lot of hard decisions that I took based on studying in America simply destroyed.
Any way, thanks a million for you and all the honest people like you and I hope that the problem will be solved in a quick way
AHMED AL MAGHARI
So what can I say to Ahmed? How can I explain to him what the Shin Bet will not explain to him – why they told the US that he is a security threat. And why did he became a security threat only after the US had granted him a visa. And what is a security threat? Does he have a relative that is suspected of being Hamas? Is there fear that he will want to revenge a martyr? Is it difficult for the Shin Bet to trump up charges – even convincingly -- against anybody they want to?
If you an American citizen, I ask you to contact your representative in Congress, or senator, and bring Ahmed's case to their attention.You may think that this is a lousy time to do something – Congress is or will be soon in recess; the world is paying attention to Russia's invasion of Georgia and the Olympics. If one young man can't travel to America, is this such a big deal?
For me, it is an enormous deal. To save this young man's belief in himself, and in the importance of education, is to save an entire world. Keeping Ahmed in Gaza is a vindictive, spiteful act that says more about Israel's desire to save face with the US than with anybody's security.
How ashamed we all should feel.