International faculty at Palestinian universities have faced increasingly opaque and arbitrary limitations on their ability to remain in or return to the West Bank to continue teaching activities. These limitations threaten significant harm to Palestinian higher education.
Scholars at Risk has issued the below letter to Israeli authorities expressing our concern and urging them to protect the right of foreign academics to travel into and remain in the West Bank without arbitrary restriction, and the corresponding rights of local institutions and communities to benefit from the presence of international academic voices.
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Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister’s Office
3 Kaplan St. Hakirya
Jerusalem, Israel 91950
September 5, 2019
RE: Restrictions on Travel by International Faculty to West Bank Universities
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
I write on behalf of the Scholars at Risk Network to express concern over recent reports of restrictions on travel to the West Bank by international faculty teaching at Palestinian universities. I respectfully urge you to direct appropriate authorities to establish clear, equitable, and consistent rules and procedures which protect the right of foreign academic personnel to travel into and remain in the West Bank without arbitrary restriction, and the corresponding rights of individuals and institutions within the West Bank to receive and benefit from international scholarship; to investigate apparently arbitrary denials of visa applications for members of the higher education community; and to rectify such denials where appropriate.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in nearly 40 countries dedicated to protecting the human rights of scholars around the world, and to raising awareness, understanding of, and respect for the principles of academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of expression, opinion, thought, association, and travel. In cases involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, Scholars at Risk investigates hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.
SAR understands that in recent years international professors at West Bank universities increasingly have faced opaque and apparently arbitrary rules which impact their ability to remain in or return to the West Bank. During the past three years, many of these scholars—who, like other foreign passport holders, are only eligible for temporary visitor visas—have had their visa renewal requests denied, despite holding long-term university appointments and not posing a credible security risk. Other scholars have reportedly been subject to severe administrative burdens including: shifting visa documentation requirements; arbitrarily shortened visa periods; restrictions on movement within the West Bank; demands for financial bonds of up to 80,000 NIS (roughly $23,300 USD); and a lack of transparency regarding the application of visa-related rules. These burdens limit international scholars’ ability to accept long-term employment at West Bank universities, or to assess whether their ability to remain in the West Bank will be impacted by traveling abroad to attend conferences or conduct research. Beyond the harm to the individual scholars whose ability to travel to or remain in the West Bank is in doubt, these actions impact entire institutions and communities, by limiting access to the knowledge and international perspectives that these scholars bring.
The volume and impact of these restrictions appear to be increasing. A February 2018 report by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education suggests that more than half of the foreign passport-holding faculty at several leading Palestinian universities had been denied entry or otherwise impacted by visa restrictions during the preceding two years. At Birzeit University (BZU) in particular, seven faculty members (several of whom have been professors at BZU for over a decade) were reportedly compelled to leave the country and stop their teaching activities between 2017 and 2019 after their visa renewal applications were denied. With classes having begun on September 4, SAR understands that four international members of the BZU faculty remain outside the country, awaiting permission to enter and begin academic activities. Another three have given up their faculty positions after being denied entry. Nine more faculty remain in Birzeit on short-term visas, with another two lacking visas altogether, leaving their ability to fulfill their long-term teaching contracts or attend international academic conferences in doubt.
We welcome any additional information that may explain these events or clarify our understanding. Absent this, the facts as described suggest that international scholars are being arbitrarily excluded from the West Bank, and thus prevented from remaining at the universities where they teach, research, and study.
The international exchange of ideas is at the heart of academic life. The right to academic freedom and its component freedom of expression—which includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers,”—are protected under international human rights standards including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. International faculty at universities such as BZU not only benefit the campuses where they work, but represent the long-term development of a broader, more diverse Palestinian higher education system as well. Trends that force international faculty off campus and discourage foreign scholars and students from participating in and contributing to Palestinian higher education harm the system as a whole by limiting the range of ideas and perspectives that are a part of a local academic discourse.
Accordingly, SAR respectfully urges you to direct appropriate authorities to establish clear, equitable, and consistent rules and procedures which protect the right of foreign academic personnel to travel into and remain in the West Bank without arbitrary restriction, and the corresponding rights of individuals and institutions within the West Bank to receive and benefit from international scholarship. We further call on you to investigate apparently arbitrary denials of visa applications for members of the higher education community, and to rectify such denials where appropriate.
We appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your reply.
Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked
Minister of the Interior Aryeh Machluf Deri
Minister of Education Naftali Bennett
Chairman, Council for Higher Education of Israel
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 USA
Ambassador David Melech Friedman
U.S. Ambassador to Israel
The Honorable Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland