GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Afaf al-Najar found a way out of Gaza.

The 19-year-old won a scholarship to study communications in Turkey, obtained all the necessary travel documents and even paid $ 500 to skip long queues at Egypt at the Rafah crossroads.

But when they reached the border on September 21, they backed down — not because Israel or Egypt imposed a 14-year blockade on the Gaza Strip — but because of the male tutelage law imposed by Hamas Islamic militant groups that governs the territory.

“I honestly broke down,” he said, describing the moment border officials removed his luggage from the bus. “My eyes started to flow, I couldn’t even stand up. They had to bring me a chair … I felt like my dream was being stolen.”

Travel from and to Gaza, a coastal territory inhabited by more than 2 million Palestinians, has been very limited since 2007, when Hamas seized power against Palestinian forces. Israel, which has waged four wars with Hamas, most recently in May, says a blockade is needed to prevent militants from taking up arms. Criticism sees it as a collective punishment.

Hamas has repeatedly called for the lifting of the blockade. But in February, an Islamic court headed by Hamas released a statement saying that unaccompanied women must obtain permission from a male “guardian” —husband, relative, or even a son — to travel outside the territory.

Following a backlash from human rights groups, Hamas authorities changed the verdict to remove the demand. Instead, he said a male relative could ask the court to prevent a woman from traveling if it would cause “absolute harm.” Women cannot prevent men from traveling.

Hamas has only taken timely steps over the years to implement Sharia or Islamic law in Gaza, which is already conservative, and even then it tends to back down in the face of criticism. It does not share the extreme ideology of more radical factions like the Islamic State group.

But the amended law has remained in force.

Al-Najar’s father filed a petition, and the court barred him from traveling to be considered. He lives with his mother, who is separated from his father, and in May he says he severed all relations with her. Could not contact him for comments.

Hamas officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Human Rights Watch, a New York group that is highly critical of the blockade, called on Hamas to remove the restrictions.

“Hamas authorities should lift Afaf al-Najar’s travel ban and the Supreme Judicial Council should remove its release so that Gaza women can travel without discrimination,” she said.

Returning back to the border, al-Najar turned to some local human rights groups, but said they appeared reluctant to help him, fearing reprisals from Hamas. Eventually, he filed a petition against the ban.

His father did not appear at the first hearing, and he was delayed. Before the break, the judge asked him why he was going abroad and suggested that he could study at a university in Gaza.

Al-Najar, who speaks English well and teaches the language, wants to be a journalist. He says a multicultural country like Turkey offers opportunities that don’t exist in Gaza, which is largely cut off from the outside.

The hearing was postponed a second time because the father’s lawyer was ill. He was delayed for the third time on Wednesday because he said his new lawyer needed time to study the case.

The validity of the scholarship was extended until the end of the year, but if al-Najar does not reach Turkey by then, he will lose.

But he doesn’t give up.

“I realized that no one would help me more than myself, and I realized that I now need to be strong to fight for my rights,” he said. “Instead of crying in my room and leaving myself, I decided to fight. I chose to fight for the first time in my life.”