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Since the beginning of 2006, many thousands of Palestinian foreign passport holders have been denied entry to visit, work or study in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). This policy has brought tremendous insecurity to Birzeit University’s financial and academic wellbeing.
From March to September 2006 there was a 50% drop in foreign passport holding staff – a drop from 52 in May 2006, to 27 in September 2006 – leaving most departments at the risk of being forced to drop courses and of losing irreplaceable lecturers on specialist areas. One department in particular risks losing up to 70% of its staff.
Currently there are at least 14 faculty members who are at risk of not being able to teach in 2007, and 383 students fear deportation or prison sentences every time cross a checkpoint.
The Arabic language and culture programme is particularly at risk as it is entirely self-sufficient and dependent on their foreign students’ access to the University. In the last term alone, four students were not allowed to complete their studies as they were denied entry or re-entry at Alleby Bridge crossing on the border with Jordan.
The programme is also a major source of emergency funds for the university, which has become a vital resouce since the economic blockade post the 2006 elections – for example, these funds helped to make ends meet in the three months in which teachers were paid half-salaries as a result of the economic crisis. However, now that Israel’s restrictions on access to Palestinian education have become well known, applications for next term’s course have fallen by 50% – taking with it 50% of the programme’s income.
However, for the first time since the prevalence of this deportation policy, the Israeli Government has allocated an official to be responsible for the right to enter the Palestinian territories, Maj. Gen. Mishlav. In December 2006 Mishlav told EU officials that their policy has changed and that those given ‘last permits’ would be able to stay and renew their visas. However, this does not help those who are already outside and have ‘denied entry’ stamped in their passports, as is the case for two of Birzeit’s faculty staff: Somida Abbas and Bahgat Taiam.
More recently, this apparent ‘promise’ left one of Birzeit’s best students high and dry at Allenby Bridge. Fadah Ihlal Thum is in her final year and has received Birzeit’s rare and prestigious ‘honour’ award twice. She came to live in the West Bank in 2001, is married to a local Palestinian and has a 5 month old baby. Not only is she an excellent student, she is also a wife and a mother, and has a bright future ahead of her if she is able to complete her degree in French and English, particularly as she already speaks Arabic and Portuguese fluently.
Fadah had been renewing her visa internally as is permitted to some residents until her last renewal in September 2006 when she was suddenly given a ‘last permit’ stamp on her visa along with hundreds of others, and was forced to leave her home, husband and baby in December. A few days after leaving, she tried to return and was ‘denied entry’. This came just two days after Maj. Gen. Mishlav made his promises that Israel had changed its policy! A new and fair policy is clearly not in place.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Please write to Maj. Gen. Mishlav highlighting the three cases mentioned above and calling on him to allow ALL those who wish to study, work or be with their families in the oPt to be allowed to do so, just as they would if they were entering any other part of the world.