“The best decision of my life”

Hadil Louz was typical of so many young people in Gaza, hungry for knowledge but finding it difficult to access further study; desperate to work to improve her society but unable to find a paid job. Here she tells Observe about her journey to Oxford Brookes and how she hopes to make a difference in the future.

Like most Gazans, Hadil is a refugee. Over the period of the blockade, life has got increasingly hard and there is no political end in sight. She studied at undergraduate level in Gaza and worked as a volunteer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). She should have been paid for her work but cuts to the agency’s funding prevented that.

But thanks to Oxford Brookes’ Gaza Scholarship, she grasped the opportunity to study LLM International Human Rights Law and now hopes to represent the young people of Gaza within the United Nations.

I wouldn’t have been able to come without the scholarship

“Coming to Brookes was the best decision of my life. UK education is very good. The master’s degree is just one year yet you gain so much knowledge, it is a very intense and productive time.

“I wouldn’t have been able to come without the scholarship. My father couldn’t afford it and I wasn’t being paid for my work in Gaza. I struggled for five years to get a scholarship, I applied twice to Brookes. It is very competitive. There are many well- qualified people in Gaza who want an education in another country.”

This is the first time I’ve been far away

Hadil required permission from the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Jordan, and she was helped by human rights lawyers in Palestine as well as the British embassy to be allowed to travel.

And the restrictions placed upon her when she left Gaza have caused her emotional distress.

“When I crossed the Israel border, they made me sign a paper saying that I can’t go back to Gaza within one year, no matter the circumstances. During that time my grandfather has died, my sister has given birth and my oldest brother is to get married. So I can’t attend these sad and happy moments for my family.

“This is the first time I’ve been far away but the support and encouragement from my family has made me stronger and more dedicated to my studies.”

I told them, ‘I am here to educate you about our history and status as human beings’

Hadil is full of praise for the tutors on her course who have supported her in focusing on Palestinian issues for her assignments. Although she would like there to be more about Palestine in the taught content on the course, she has seen to it that her fellow students don’t miss out on this knowledge.

“The students on my course are from all different countries and backgrounds, Montenegro, Canada, Russia, China, Norway… lots of different perspectives. And also my flatmates are as well. But they didn’t know much about Palestine so I told them, ‘I am here to educate you about our history and status as human beings’. So now they all know about these things!”

You can make connections with people in Oxford

The city of Oxford was a major attraction for Hadil, who loves learning about history. Being here has given her a chance to talk to people, including Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, whom she would not have been able to meet in Gaza.

“There is a twinning agreement between Ramallah and Oxford. I went to an event where I made lots of connections with people from Ramallah that I never could in Gaza. It amazed me how easily you can make connections with people in Oxford.

“I have met historians who in Gaza I used to watch on documentaries, for example the Israeli historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappé. I got a lot of knowledge from them and Avi Shlaim introduced me to his students from the Middle East Department at Oxford University, and I told them about my personal story as a Palestinian refugee.”

My friends in Gaza are so happy I am in this position

“I share my journey with friends in Gaza on social media. I believe I should educate them to how the world is outside and it’s my responsibility to show them how it’s possible to get there.”

“Also, Brookes has used my picture for their website and on banners, so my friends in Oxford all take pictures of it and send them to me. And I send the pictures back to my friends in Gaza. They are so happy I am in this position, a Palestinian from Gaza is now a representative of a university here in Oxford, known for its educational reputation all over the world. It’s a really nice feeling!”

Getting this chance has changed my life for the better

The banner with Hadil’s picture has the statement, “Never stop dreaming”, one of the messages of our 2019 student recruitment campaign. And although Hadil has fulfilled one dream by coming here to study, she certainly hasn’t stopped dreaming. She wants to use the opportunities, which the Gaza Scholarship has given her, to make a real difference for the sake of others as well as herself.

“While we are under blockade in Gaza, we can’t do anything. So the scholarship helps students to improve themselves and their country.

“I would go back to Gaza if there is an opportunity for paid work but as an international human rights lawyer I would like to work for the United Nations to represent Palestinian youth. So it might be in Geneva or New York.

“Getting this chance has changed my life for the better. And hopefully it can change the life of many others who will get the scholarship after me.”

Photograph: Paul Tait
Words: Sirius Gibson

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