Israel is refusing to issue work permits for international academicians working at Palestinian universities in the occupied West Bank and is escalating a harsh visa policy that is forcing them to abandon their students and leave the country. Murky and arbitrary Israeli regulations leave international lecturers and their families in constant uncertainty and subject to deportation at any time.
About two and a half months ago, a Palestinian university in the West Bank, together with human rights groups, began taking legal action. After three consecutive academic years during which Israel intensified its efforts to force international lecturers to leave the country, Birzeit University, Al-Haq, and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, have demanded a halt to this policy targeting Palestinian academic freedom and isolating Palestinian institutions of higher learning.
In a letter sent on April 30, 2019, to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Israeli Chief Military Advocate General Sharon Afek, and the Israeli military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Kamil Abu Rokon, Birzeit University, Al-Haq, and Adalah demand that Israel lift the restrictions preventing international academicians employed by Birzeit University from remaining and working in the West Bank.
In addition, they demand that Israel stop imposing arbitrary restrictions on the duration or extension of stay for international academicians; and that the state order the publication of a clear and lawful procedure for the issuing of entry visas and work permits for international academicians in the West Bank, which will enable the university to manage and maintain its academic freedom.
Between 2017 and 2019, four full-time and three part-time international lecturers at Birzeit University were compelled to leave the country and were not able to continue their teaching because Israel refused to renew their visas. In 2019, Israel denied entry to two international academicians with Birzeit University contracts. Not a single international faculty member, with the exception of those directly employed by foreign government-sponsored programs, was issued a visa for the length of their 2018-2019 academic year contract. As of this writing, six full-time international faculty members contracted for the 2018-2019 academic year are without valid visas; another five – including a department chair – are overseas with no clear picture of whether they will be able to return and secure visas required for them to work in Birzeit during the upcoming academic year. Over 12 departments and programs face losing faculty members for the 2019-20 academic year because of the Israeli policy.
Birzeit University is not alone: Universities across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are being affected by the Israeli policy. A February 2018 Palestinian Ministry of Education study found that half of the international lecturers and staff (32 out of 64) at eight universities had been detrimentally impacted during the previous two years by Israeli’s rejection of their applications for new visas or visa extensions or by the state’s refusal to allow them to enter the West Bank. These academicians, many of them Palestinians holding foreign passports, are citizens of various countries including the Netherlands, France, Germany, India, and Jordan, with the majority from the US and European Union member states.