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To Members of Global Civil Society and Academia:
Birzeit University, a Palestinian institution of higher learning, is currently facing heightened challenges in the form of systematic measures being taken by Israel to prevent faculty, staff and students bearing foreign passports (whether of Palestinian or international origin) from maintaining their presence in Palestine and/or reaching the campus (denial of entry at the border).
These measures represent an alarming Israeli policy with harmful effects on Palestinian society in a variety of essential fields. Those targeted include health workers, NGO and international development staff, clergy, business people, school teachers and university personnel.
This denial of entry and the often sudden denial of visa renewals puts Palestinian institutions in a vulnerable situation, , as it interferes with the functioning of schools, universities, hospitals and the provision of essential services more generally. It thwarts business and investment efforts to support economic development. And it undermines the welfare and integrity of countless Palestinian families.
In the specific case of universities, and 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 into the country or have had their visa renewal applications denied. 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 workshops and lectures they give at various educational, research, and cultural institutions. A number have been teaching at Birzeit University for ten years or more. They play a critical role, not only in the ongoing provision of quality education at Birzeit University but in the long-term development of Palestinian higher education. Additionally, numerous international students have been turned away at the borders and are unable to register or continue their studies in Palestine.
What is academic freedom if we cannot have predictability and continuity in our teaching, administrative, and student body? How can the university recruit faculty who do not hold local IDs? How can we host international visiting scholars? This kind of disruption and isolation of institutions of higher education is part of a much larger policy of movement and access restrictions that serve to control every aspect of Palestinian life, undermining the ability of Palestinian institutions to function effectively, blocking economic development, fragmenting communities and social networks and causing immeasurable harm to the Palestinian population.
Since the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel has unilaterally controlled the civil register of the Palestinian population, and has restricted movement in and out of the occupied Palestinian territory for Palestinians and foreign nationals, thus depriving them of their basic rights to freedom of movement and family unity. Israel has arrogated to itself the prerogative of allowing or refusing entry and work permits to foreign passport holders and their families in the occupied Palestinian territory. Recent escalations in conditions and restrictions placed on those seeking visa renewals include threatening to revoke the visas of spouses of Palestinians if they work in the occupied Palestinian territory in their fields of specialization and expertise.
The great numbers of foreign passport holders who are denied entry have family connections in Palestine and are entitled to family integrity by international conventions and recognized norms. Israel has also signed agreements of reciprocity in diplomacy and immigration rules with other countries, which it is now violating while consistently failing to provide a proper reason for its behavior, depriving threatened persons of their basic rights of access to justice, transparency and state accountability. Israeli citizens, meanwhile, enjoy unfettered entry into most countries around the world, while citizens of these countries are being denied similar treatment when they cross Israeli borders coming to the Palestinian side.