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Rectors and senior administrators representing all of Israel's universities called on Defense Minister Amir Peretz to end the policy of forbidding all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from studying at Israeli schools of higher learning, a Hebrew University spokesman said Wednesday.
The letter was sent on the eve of a High Court hearing on a petition submitted by Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, and Sawsan Salame, a 29-year-old graduate student from the West Bank village of Anata who was given a full scholarship to pursue doctoral studies at the Hebrew University but was refused a visa by the military government to enter Israel.
"The universities protest the sweeping ban and call upon the security establishment to examine all such instances on an individual basis and enable students who are not suspected of involvement in activities that threaten the security of Israel to enter the country for academic purposes," the letter stated.
It was initiated by Hebrew University rector Prof. Haim Rabinowitch and signed by him and the rectors of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ben-Gurion Universities, as well as senior administrators from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Technion.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, the High Court of Justice recommended that the petitioners and the army try to reach an agreement on a routine weekly schedule of studies in which Salame will work on the premises of the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus with her mentor, Prof. Raphael Levine, and receive a visa for these days and hours.
Gisha, which had originally demanded that the state grant the visa before the beginning of the school year on October 22, agreed to suspend the petition for a week while the two sides negotiated. Gisha's director, Sari Bashi, told The Jerusalem Post that the petitioners would draw up the weekly timetable and submit it to the army.
Gisha also petitioned against the ban prohibiting any Palestinian from studying in Israel. It claimed that each student should be considered on his or her own merits.
The state argued that it had no obligation to allow anyone into Israel and that its policy was to bar entry to all Palestinians "except for exceptional humanitarian cases and other cases in which the state decides that there is a public interest in approving the request. The petitioner's request, just as the requests of many other Palestinian Authority residents who are students, does not fall into the category of humanitarian requests."
The justices expressed concern over the sweeping nature of the ban and recommended that the state find a way to allow Salame into Israel at least for a few days a week.
"A sweeping ban is detrimental to attempts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian cooperation," said Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. He asked the state to grant Salame's request and added that "there must certainly be more than one exception among the students who have applied for visas."
Salame comes from a poor family and lives at home with her mother, along with her nine siblings and their families, in a three-room house. Until recently she earned NIS 2,500 a month teaching chemistry in the local girls' high school, but the PA has not been able to pay teachers' salaries since the election of the Hamas government.
She received her BA and MA from Al-Kuds University, but there is no university that grants doctorates in chemistry in the West Bank.
"All I want is to be allowed to study, to do research and to become the first female professor of chemistry in the Palestinian educational system," she said.