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Right to Education Campaign, Birzeit University, 4 September 2006
Since 1967, the Israeli occupation has systematically targeted Palestinian educational institutions as part of its objective to control and subjugate Palestinian society in order to sustain Israel’s Jewish demographic supremacy and its unilaterally declared boundaries. The means of subjugation can be generally characterized into three accumulative phases: the outright criminalization of Palestinian education, where students and teachers are arrested and Universities shut down, most prominent up until the mid-1990s; the denial of free access to education by turning Palestinian areas into Bantustans controlled by a matrix of checkpoints, and most recently, the isolation of Palestinian educational institutions through Israeli immigration controls.
As an occupying power, Israel is legally responsible for guaranteeing all human necessities and rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), including the right to education, and is in de facto control of all that goes in and out of the territories, including foreign academics, researchers and students. Foreign students wishing to study in Palestinian institutions are denied entry if they reveal they will be based in a Palestinian institution inside the occupied territories. They are forced to pose as tourists intending to travel in Israel instead, clearly being denied their universal right of access to education.
In March 2006, three foreign students enrolled at a Palestinian University went to Jordan to renew their tourist visas in accordance to Israeli law. On trying to re-enter to continue their studies, they were interrogated, humiliated and deported without being given any explanation – being denied of both their education and the basic norms of due process (including access to justice, transparency and state accountability). Since March, there have been numerous such cases, the latest of which was a potential student being denied entry from Jordan in the last week of August. In all cases, the students approached their relative consular representatives in Israel and Jordan, where they were told their country was not prepared to challenge this Israeli policy, despite Israelis being granted free access and due judicial process when entering their countries.
University faculty members and staff with foreign passports face similar ordeals having to renew their ‘tourist’ visas every three months despite having built their professional and family lives in the oPt – from one visa application to the next, they have no guarantees they will be able to stay. Israel refuses to allow the oPt to develop its own procedures for granting entry and citizenship rights, denying thousands of residents who entered the territories since 1967 any legal rights despite their invaluable contribution to the diversity of the Palestinian society and economy. This can be best understood in the overall context of the occupation and its policy of depopulation, where Israel controls and limits the number of Palestinian and foreign residents in the remaining Palestinian areas.
|The ‘last’ visa entry granted to Sam Bahour, Birzeit University Trustee, as he re-entered the West Bank where he has lived legally as a ‘tourist’ for over a decade. The words “last permit” were written on the top left-hand corner of the permit in Hebrew, English and Arabic.|
Also in March 2006, three faculty members of Birzeit University have had their visa renewals rejected, one of which has been deported. Despite never having breached any Israeli law in over ten years of their residency in the territories, neither was given an explanation for why their residency or work had suddenly become a threat to Israel. In total, Birzeit has had four cases of Israeli immigration policy being used to isolated Palestinian educational institutions from international academics and staff. The most recent being the case of a University Trustee and a prominent Palestinian businessman with US citizenship, who was given a one-month permit on his last re-entry with the ominous words ‘last permit’ written by hand on his passport. Despite having resided in the West Bank for over a decade (always legally under Israeli immigration law) and having made important contributions to Palestinian social and economic development – through helping to establish the Palestinian telecommunications conglomerate, Paltel, developing capacity-building IT projects at Birzeit University, and being involved in numerous other social and business ventures – he was effectively deported without any justifiable reason, legal or otherwise.
To add insult to injury, some cases have been advised to take the issue to the Palestinian Interior Ministry who would then make an application to Israel for a work permit on the individual’s behalf. Those who tried this route were quickly told there was one condition: the application must be made by a civil servant who is not a Hamas supporter. Beyond being a thoroughly impractical and unethical request, this apparently new solution is a barefaced attempt to further the silent coup against the current Palestinian government and to redirect genuine grievances against the new tools of occupation, inwards, instead of at the real perpetrators.
The systematic obstruction of Palestinian education not only violates the human rights of the individuals involved, but is also an attack on the development of Palestinian society as a whole. Palestinian schools and universities contribute to future Palestinian generations by teaching some 1.2m students (32% of the total population in the West Bank and Gaza), some 150,000 of which are enrolled in higher education institutions, who also employ around 10,000 academics and staff every year. They also produce local knowledge which is a most valuable resource for the cultural and economic development of a society and nation. It is essential, therefore, for foreign governments to call on Israel to cease the isolation of Palestinian educational institutions and to at least demand reciprocal treatment for their citizens who wish to visit and study in Palestine.