Photo Credit:
Members of the larger YES alumni family in Gaza. / Photo credit: Courtesy Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program

President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt on Thursday hosted a welcome reception for a group of Arab students arriving from Gaza to participate in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program.

YES program was established by Congress in October 2002, in response to the events of September 11, 2001 (when 19 Arab terrorists attacked two major commercial skyscrapers in downtown New York City, killing upwards of 3,000 innocent American civilians).

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The program is funded through the State Department and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA), to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations who spend up to one academic year in the United States.

The Muslim students live with American host families, attend high schools, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their own countries and cultures.

In 2009, the US government established the YES Abroad program, to provide a similar experience for US students ages 15-18, who spend an academic year in select YES countries.

The program officially launched in the PA in 2003, and since then some 255 students from the PA have completed the YES program and now participate as alumni. The Gaza program was also launched in 2003, with 100 graduates so far. As of 2004, the program has also graduated 200 Israeli Arabs.

The 2016-17 YES program included students from 38 Muslim countries, most of them African, southeastern-European and south and south-east Asian. The only Arab countries participating are Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey.

In attendance at the greeting event on Thursday was the Head of the PLO Delegation to the US Ambassador Husam Zomlot, representatives from the US Departments of State and Education, as well as representatives of the US agencies sponsoring the student exchange program.

Zomlot conveyed Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ greeting and wishes success for the students and his thanks to President Trump and his Special Advisor Greenblatt for their support for the Palestinian people, particularly in the field of education.

According to the official WAFA news agency, “the Students were very grateful to Greenblatt who helped and facilitate their departure from Gaza to Jordan and then the USA.” Also, most likely, they were grateful to finally have round the clock electricity, after Chairman Abbas had been keeping them and their families in the dark for many months.

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