Deported Palestinian Enters Harvard’s Freshman Class
A personal note:
In 1952, I became a member of Harvard’s class of 1956, went through orientation in early September, then began classes.
Awed during my early days on campus, wondering how an ordinary kid from inner city Boston, with nothing special going for me, would fare against the best and brightest, I settled in and discovered that showing up and working hard was the secret of success.
Lots of others in my class were ordinary like myself. I successfully completed my four-year curriculum over 63 years ago — undaunted by my best and brightest classmates.
Ismail Ajjawi is no ordinary Harvard freshmen. My admission to the college was nothing remotely like what he endured to become a member of its class of 2023.
He’s a Lebanon-born Palestinian refugee. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees called him “an inspiration to fellow UNWRA students,” adding:
Aged-17, admitted to Harvard on a full scholarship, he graduated last spring from UNWRA’s Deir Yassin High School in Lebanon’s El Buss refugee camp near Tyre.
“He achieved the highest score in the life science stream of the Official Lebanese Baccalaureate exams in the south region and eighth highest in all of Lebanon,” UNWRA explained.
He explained his secondary school experience as follows, saying it “(s)uffers from many difficulties, the most important being the housing density that leads to the construction of houses very close to each other,” adding:
“In this atmosphere, it is really difficult for students to concentrate on their studies. There are a limited number of scholarships and each year the amount is reduced.”
“A large proportion of students are unable to study. I advise all my classmates to study hard and maintain their studies, so that they can achieve their dreams as I have been able to achieve mine.”
At age-17, he has miles to go, but he’s off to a good start as a Harvard freshman. As an alum and someone who cares, I wish him my very best in school and what follows.
UNWRA’s education director Caroline Pontefract called Ajjawi “an extremely talented and determined student and young man, who, despite all odds, has gained a place in one of the most prestigious universities in the world,” adding:
“Ismail wants to study physical and chemical biology towards a career in medicine which he had always dreamed of.”
“As such, he is a beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of UNRWA students and representative of what UNRWA strives to achieve through its education program…”
Ajjawi was one of over 500,000 Palestinian refugee children educated in UNWRA schools. Few achieve his level of academic excellence, fewer still admitted to top higher education schools abroad on full scholarships.
On arrival at Boston’s Logan on airport on August 23, Ajjawi was denied entry by US immigration agents, subjected to long hours of abusive questioning and searches of his computer and cell phone, then deported after his visa was summarily revoked.
Remarks by others on his Facebook page were reportedly critical of US policies — truth-telling about its hostile imperial agenda considered unacceptable, comments he didn’t make.
Trump’s hostility toward Muslims from the wrong countries, especially Iranians, Syrians, Yemenis and Palestinians, made him a marked young man.
He explained that he “never made political posts on social media, but was questioned about the political posts of his friends.”
US Customs and Border Protection found him “inadmissible” — for being Palestinian from the wrong country left unexplained.
On September 3, Harvard’s first day of classes, the Harvard Crimson reported the following:
After being deported to Lebanon 10 days ago, Ajjawi “arrived on campus Monday in time for the start of classes Tuesday,” adding:
Through their attorney, his family said the following:
“The last ten days have been difficult and anxiety filled, but we are most grateful for the thousands of messages of support and particularly the work of AMIDEAST,” adding:
“We hope now that everyone can respect our and Ismail’s privacy and he can now simply focus on settling into college and his important class work.”
US-based AMIDEAST says its “mission is to create hope, opportunity, and mutual understanding among people in the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States through life-changing opportunities for education and cultural exchanges.”
It sponsored Ajjawi with scholarship aid, worked on his behalf with US immigration officials so he could return to Harvard and begin his studies on time.
According to the Crimson, thousands of Harvard students signed a petition, expressing support for Ajjawi.
The university’s administration worked with US authorities to aid his return to campus.
He’s back, enrolled, and beginning his studies, thanks to efforts from individuals supporting his fundamental rights.
My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”