Birzeit University condemns breach of academic freedom after academics forced to leave Palestine
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Since the beginning of the current academic year (2017-2018), scores of foreign passport holders, many of Palestinian origin but without residence documents, living and working in the occupied Palestinian territory have been denied entry in the country, or have had their visa renewal applications refused by the Israeli authorities. At Birzeit University alone, we have 15 foreign passport-holding faculty members whose requests for visa renewals have been refused or significantly delayed.
These faculty members have full-time status, work in all the various faculties on our campus, and include senior faculty and department chairpersons. Our faculty who are currently under threat teach in the BA, MA, and Ph.D. programs at Birzeit University, are members of university committees, and serve the larger Palestinian community through public seminars and lectures. Already some professors have been forced to leave the country; including one from the Department of English and Literature, and a professor of European History at the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute for International Studies who has devoted his entire academic career to Palestine and the university for the past four decades.
These international professors play a critical role not only in the ongoing provision of quality education at Birzeit University but also in the long-term development of Palestinian higher education. If this policy continues, Palestinian universities, including Birzeit University, will be further isolated from the global academic environment. Our ability to deliver a world-class education will be further compromised if we lose the international perspectives, diverse professional experiences and high-level skills these faculty members crucially bring to Palestinian academic life and the campus environment as a whole. In the global academic environment of the 21st Century, having an internationally diverse faculty has become a fundamental cornerstone of academic excellence at universities worldwide. If Birzeit University and Palestinian higher education as a whole are denied the right to engage international faculty members, what is ultimately being denied is our right to deliver a quality and standard of education that meets the accepted global norm.
The right to education is a fundamental human right as established in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That article simultaneously underlines the critical link between education and the furthering of global perspectives, understanding and connection between diverse peoples and nations:
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
A long line of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and rulings of the International Court of Justice affirm Israel’s obligation to exercise its responsibility as the occupying power in West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in accordance with international humanitarian law (including the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949) as well as applicable international human rights law. Israel is obligated by international law to both protect and facilitate the functioning of Palestinian civil institutions, including higher education. All states that are signatories to these resolutions also bear a responsibility to ensure that Israel exercises its obligations towards Palestinian education under international law; including that it exercises its control over the entry and presence of foreign academics in a manner that avoids unnecessary harm to Palestinian higher education and to the occupied population’s fundamental right to education.
We call on everyone – including governments, institutions, academics, and associations – to decry these policies, protect our fundamental right of academic freedom at Birzeit University and for all Palestinian higher education. We call upon you and the international community to put the full weight of pressure on the Israeli authorities to put a halt to this extremely destructive policy. We ask that you:
- Hold Israel accountable for its violations, and enjoin it to undertake its obligations under international law
- Demand a halt to Israel’s arbitrary and abusive practice denying access to and presence of international educators and academics contributing to Palestinian’s educational development
- Make it incumbent on Israel to adopt and implement a clear documented and transparent policy enabling unhindered access and presence to foreign nationals who are coming to educate or promote educational development in the occupied Palestinian territories.