Sawsan Salame, 29, a resident of Anata village in east Jerusalem, sounds tired as she answers her cellphone. "No, I don't have any problem talking to the press about my case," she says politely, her fatigue apparent. Over the past few days, Salame has received dozens if not hundreds of phone calls from around the globe, has appeared on Al-Jazeera and Dubai TV and has given numerous interviews to local and other international newspapers and television and radio stations. It is obvious that she isn't used to this kind of attention, and she isn't comfortable being so prominently in the public eye. Dressed in the traditional hijab (the head covering worn by Muslim women) Salame says she naturally shies away from the cameras, but that now she now has had to overcome her shyness. Salame is a gifted student who holds a BA and an MSc in chemistry from al-Quds University. Some eight months ago, she was accepted into a PhD program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and granted a full scholarship that would allow her to dedicate all of her time to a breakthrough research. "I was so happy, because there is no PhD program in Palestinian universities, and since I come from a traditional family, they wouldn't let me go alone abroad to a foreign country," she says. But the problems started when Salame, a Palestinian citizen, first applied for an entry permit into Israel. She was refused. "I applied over and over again and was refused every time," she tells In Jerusalem. "I was never given a reason, so I don't really know why was I denied entrance. My family doesn't have a security record, we'd never been involved in anything and my dad worked in Israel for many years." According to Shlomo Dror, the coordinator of activities in the territories, Salame's problem is that she didn't fit any of the criteria set by the security forces. "There are certain criteria for Palestinian citizens who wish to enter Israel and stay here for the long term," Dror explains. "They must be over 35 years of age, married, preferably with at least one child. Those who do not fit the criteria are usually denied entrance into Israel for security reasons." In response to IJ's queries regarding specific security risks or doubts that Salame poses, Dror responded tersely, "The security forces do not have specific information about every single Palestinian citizen. That would be impossible. Unfortunately, the security situation today is very grave, there are numerous warnings about terrorist attacks, there is still a lot of motivation to execute these attacks and therefore we have to be extra careful." Dror continues, "I can personally tell you about the case of a girl who was granted a permit to enter Israel for medical treatment - by me. And when she came into Israel, we found an explosive belt on her body." According to officials at Gisha, a non-profit center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, the issues are involved are very different. "This is part of a very specific policy to forbid all Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from studying at Israeli institutions of higher learning," claims Sari Bashi, director of Gisha. "Ever since the beginning of the intifada the entrance of the Palestinian students to Israel has become extremely difficult and the new restriction concerns the new students who were to begin their studies this semester." Dror denies Bashi's contentions, arguing that "there is no such decision to prevent Palestinian students from coming into Israel, but there are specific criteria that have been set according to the security situation in the country. And, of course, we do sometimes bend these criteria when it comes to the humanitarian cases, medical treatments and such. But as for students - they can always go and study in the Palestinian universities. "By the way," he adds, "currently, there are 14 students who do not meet these criteria and yet were still granted the necessary permits, so that they can continue their studies. Had we been told from the outset that the case of Salame is so special, that the only place she could do her research is Hebrew University and that there is cooperation with a German university, we would probably have granted her the permit by now. In any case, I consider her file resolved. At this time, we are waiting to receive her curriculum and if everything looks OK, she will be able to go and study in Hebrew University." But the academic year has already started. And despite Dror's detailed explanations, others are less assured that Salame's case has been resolved. Last week, Prof. Haim Rabinovich, rector of the Hebrew University, initiated a letter of protest, signed by the five other rectors of other Israeli major universities, addressed to Defense Minister Amir Peretz. "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. Rabinovich tells IJ that "we very much want Salame to get in to Israel, but even if she does, it doesn't put an end to the problem. As a Jew who remembers our recent and ancient history, I cannot tolerate a situation in which a group of people is denied an education merely on the basis of their ethnicity." He continues, "Just recently some Irish organizations decided to ban the Israeli academics from teaching there. I consider that wrong. If tomorrow some university were to decide that all redheads should be denied the privilege of studying - we would all protest about it, wouldn't we? If the authorities were to check students one by one and come to individual conclusions, I would not have any problem with this at all." The comparison with recent Jewish recent history also came to mind for Fatah activist Samir Masri from Ramallah, who had studied at Hebrew University in the 1990s. The ban, says Masri, is "just another form of racism, like the separation barrier or the ban on family reunification. The Israeli authorities are doing their utmost to prevent the Palestinians from getting an education." Dror notes that, in fact, during all the years since Palestinian students have been studying at the Hebrew University, not one was directly involved in planning or executing terrorist attacks, although there have been cases in which Palestinians were involved in information-gathering and transmitting. Salame has become the hero of the day for many of the Palestinian students, who see her as a human rights activist and trailblazer. She says that she understands the need for security precautions but still expects that reasonable judgement be applied in her case. Says Omar abu-Jalal from Bethlehem, who studied physics at the Hebrew University some 15 years ago, "The authorities are so short-sighted. Until I studied at the university, I had never met an Israeli except for the soldiers. I didn't know them as people. When we worked together in the labs I got to know some of them just as regular people. I met professors who took a genuine interest in me, as a student who loves physics. I felt like a respected equal. That is so important for our future here." Ariel Mizrahi, now a physicist living in Tel Aviv, remembers working with abu-Jalal and agrees that the sweeping policies are short-sighted and counterproductive. "It's not that we became best friends or anything so idyllic. But we learned to respect each other, and we learned to regard each other as equals. Omar is an excellent physicist and he really helped me get through some of the more difficult material. "At some point in the future, there will be peace," Mizrahi continues, "and if we can work together, if we can combine our forces, then we can reach wonderful scientific achievements here in the region." Currently, Salame, who had also petitioned the High Court of Justice, is still waiting for the security forces to work out a solution for her. Last Wednesday, the High Court of Justice recommended that the petitioners and the security forces try to reach an agreement and will be granted a permit based on a weekly schedule of studies, according to which Salame will work on the premises of the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus with her adviser, Prof. Raphael Levine. Although the ruling was to have been given this week, the court agreed to grant the army's request for another few days to work out the arrangement.

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