Israel is restricting visas for academics trying to work at prominent Palestinian universities, two NGOs have revealed.
The organisations – The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, better known as Adalah, and Al-Haq – today emphasised that Israel regularly denies visas to international academics seeking work at Palestinian universities.
Deputy General Director of Adalah, Sawsan Zaher, said:
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.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Adalah and Al-Haq "have turned to the media after writing letters to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) [which administers the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt)], the attorney-general, the military advocate-general and the Interior Ministry asking that this practice be halted."
It seems that these bodies did not respond to the NGOs' request.
As evidence to back their argument, the NGOs cited a 2018 study by the Palestinian Education Ministry which found that "half of the international lecturers in Palestinian universities – 32 out of 64 – had been impacted by visa restrictions".
One university particularly affected is Birzeit, a prominent institution located near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. An affiliate of Birzeit, the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, "reported a 200% increase in visa denials over the past two academic years," Adalah and Al-Haq noted.
In addition, seven international lecturers working at Birzeit were forced to leave the country because their visas were not renewed, while a further two staff members were denied entry altogether.
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Israel regularly cracks down on Palestinian universities across the West Bank. Earlier this month, Israeli forces arrested seven students at Birzeit, including the former head of the student council, Usama Fakhouri. Fakhouri is the son of Palestinian writer and journalist Lama Khater, who has also been arrested, imprisoned and reportedly tortured by the Israeli authorities.
The soldiers raided the students' homes in the Ramallah area, failing to provide a reason for their arrest. A day later Hamas – with which the students in question are believed to be affiliated – condemned Israel's detention of the students, saying they had paid the "ultimate price" for keeping student activities alive at Birzeit.
In March, a group of Israeli undercover forces broke in to Birzeit and kidnapped three students, taking them to an unknown location. According to witnesses, the forces used a special tool to destroy the main gate of the university and stormed the student council office before kidnapping the students.
Despite Israel's attempts to limit the activities of Palestinian universities, their staff and students, the institutions remain prestigious. In June 2018 Birzeit was ranked one of the top 100 universities in the world, in a survey of 26,000 universities from 85 different countries.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Birzeit's Board of Trustees, said of the ranking: "This recognition […] is a reflection of the efficiency, excellence and creativity of the Palestinians and our national universities. This distinctive accomplishment also highlights the academic history of Birzeit University and constitutes a success felt by the entire Palestinian nation."
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