NGO: Israel restricting visas to academics at Palestinian universities

“Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – like all other peoples around the world – are entitled to exercise their right to academic freedom as part of their right to self-determination."

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July 12, 2019 05:13
2 minute read.
Palestinian students check a small electronic car that they control by an electronic glove

Palestinian students check a small electronic car that they control by an electronic glove they developed, at Birzeit University in the West Bank town of Birzeit January 21, 2016. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

 
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Israel is preventing international academics from working at Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza, two NGOs said on Thursday as they embarked on a campaign to help the universities – particularly Birzeit, located in near Ramallah.

“Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – like all other peoples around the world – are entitled to exercise their right to academic freedom as part of their right to self-determination. The Israeli military occupation cannot prevent Palestinians from exercising this right,” said attorney Sawsan Zaher, who is the deputy general director for Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Adalah and the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq have turned to the media after writing letters to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the attorney-general, the military advocate-general and the Interior Ministry asking that this practice be halted.

The two NGOs did not have all of the data regarding the issue, but they pointed to a number of studies that had done partial investigations of the phenomenon.

Already in February 2018, a study done by the Palestinian Education Ministry found that half of the international lectures in Palestinian universities – 32 out of 64 – had been impacted by visa restrictions, the NGOs said. This included rejections and extensions of visa applications. Many of those targeted were Palestinians with foreign passports from countries such as the Netherlands, France, Germany, India, Jordan, the United States and European Union members states.

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, an affiliate of Birzeit University, “reported a 200% increase in visa denials over the past two academic years,” the NGOs said.

The conservatory reported that for the 2017-2018 academic year, four out of 20 international faculty members were denied visa extensions or entry at the border, according to Adalah and Al-Haq. For 2018-2019, that number went up to eight out of 19.

The NGOs also gave examples from the experience of Birzeit, where they said that four full-time and three part-time international lecturers have been “compelled” to leave the country between 2017-2019, because their visas were not renewed. Two international faculty members were denied entry in 2019, the NGO said.

“Not a single international faculty member, with the exception of those directly employed by foreign government-sponsored programs, was issued a visa for the length of their 2018-2019 academic year contract,” the NGOs said.

They noted that six full-time international faculty members were without valid visas and another five were overseas without any “clear indications of whether they will be able to return and secure the visas required for them to stay for the coming academic year,” the NGOs said. Over 12 departments and programs could lose faculty members in the coming year because of the policy, they stated.

Birzeit University President Abdullatif Abuhijleh said: “The latest escalation in visa restrictions is just one in a longstanding and systematic Israeli policy of undermining the independence and viability of Palestinian higher education institutions.”

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