Israel isolates Palestinian universities

Israel is isolating Palestinian universities by forcing international scholars to leave their academic positions in the occupied West Bank.

Two Palestinian human rights groups, as well as Birzeit University, are calling on Israel to lift restrictions preventing international academics from working in the West Bank and to publish “a clear and lawful procedure for issuing entry visas and work permits.”

Israel’s policy of denying internationals entry to the West Bank, as well as refusing and failing to process visa extension applications in a timely manner, has affected dozens of scholars working at Palestinian universities.

Ranking threatened

Israeli restrictions threaten Birzeit’s ranking among the top three percent of universities worldwide, the educational institution and rights groups say. The proportion of international faculty and students are key indicators that determine a university’s ranking.

“By preventing Birzeit from employing international faculty, Israel is impeding its ability to function as a university that meets international standards,” the university and the rights groups Al-Haq and Adalah stated.

Over the past two years, four full-time and three part-time faculty members at Birzeit, the oldest Palestinian university operating in the West Bank, were forced to leave the country and were unable to continue teaching after Israel refused to renew their visas.

This year, two internationals with full-time contracts at Birzeit were denied entry by Israel. Six faculty members are currently without valid visas and another five, including a department chair, “are overseas with no clear indication of whether they will be able to return.”

Dozens of international staff and lecturers have been “detrimentally affected during the previous two years by Israeli rejections of applications for new visas or visa extensions or by refusal to allow them to enter the West Bank.”

Many are Palestinians who hold international passports, and the majority are from the US and European Union member states.

Israel’s policy toward international academics “violates universities’ freedom to expand the areas of research and studies it offers to Palestinian and international students alike. As such, Israel is blocking the occupied Palestinian population from determining for themselves what kind of education they want to provide.”

A regulation issued by COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation, allows international “lecturers and advisers” to apply for a visa lasting up to three months only.

Meanwhile, Israeli universities “are able to recruit foreign academics under a separate procedure that allows the entry and employment of foreigners for a period of up to five years.”

Permit regime

Israel’s permit regime prevents Palestinians in Gaza from studying at West Bank universities, and vice versa.

Gaza students once made up some 35 percent of enrollment at West Bank universities.

Under Israeli blockade for more than a decade, unemployment among recent university graduates in Gaza stood at nearly 80 percent last year.

International scholarly associations including the US-based Middle East Studies Association, California Scholars for Academic Freedom and the British Societies for Middle East Studies have condemned Israel’s restrictions on foreign academics in Palestinian universities.

European academics and researchers have meanwhile called for an end to EU funding of Israeli academic institutions with “close ties with Israeli military industry.”

The European Union has channeled more than $800 million to Israeli researchers, largely through its Horizon 2020 funding program.

Since 2004, Palestinian civil society groups have called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Such institutions “have either contributed directly to maintaining, defending or otherwise justifying” Israeli state oppression or have been complicit “through their silence,” the boycott call states.

In what is said to be a first, a European association of mental health researchers has just canceled plans to hold its 2021 conference in Jerusalem.

ENMESH reportedly took the decision after a backlash from board members who did not want the organization to spend the next two years under pressure from Palestine solidarity campaigners.

According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper,

“This is the first time that an organization of this kind has walked back on an already approved decision to hold a conference in Israel, indicating that the campaign to boycott Israeli academics may be gaining traction.”