Scholars at Risk has issued the below letter expressing concern over an Israeli government directive that will severely restrict international scholars’ and students’ travel to and work in the West Bank. Set to go into effect in May 2022, the directive would endanger both Palestinian and international scholars’ and students’ meaningful enjoyment of academic freedom, the right to education, and the benefits of science.
The Honorable Naftali Bennett
State of Israel
April 27, 2022
RE: Protect and promote international academic travel to and work in the West Bank
Dear Prime Minister Bennett:
I write on behalf of Scholars at Risk to express our deep concern over an Israeli government directive that will severely restrict international scholars’ and students’ travel to and work in the West Bank. In addition to the immediate impact on international scholars and students, the directive will endanger Palestinians’ meaningful enjoyment of academic freedom, the right to education, and the benefits of science. I respectfully urge you to direct the relevant state authorities to drop this directive and to protect and promote the right of international academic personnel and students to travel to and work in the West Bank.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 600 higher education institutions in 42 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 like this, involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, SAR investigates, hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.
SAR understands that the Israeli government has issued a directive, known as the “Procedure for Entry and Residence of Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Area,” that expands Israeli government control over the travel of international scholars and students into and residence in the West Bank. The directive, which is set to take effect in May 2022, would, inter alia:
- establish an annual quota that limits the number of foreign faculty and students permitted to study and research long-term at higher education institutions in the West Bank, with the initial quotas for faculty and students set at 100 and 150, respectively;
- limit permits for independent research to individuals with a doctorate degree and who are above the age of 25, arbitrarily eliminating the opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students who are not affiliated with recognized institutions in the West Bank to conduct independent research there;
- cap foreign scholars’ residency in the West Bank to 5 non-consecutive years, with a burdensome requirement that foreign lecturers and researchers leave for at least 9 months after their first 27 months in the West Bank;
- limit doctoral students to five cumulative years of residency and all other students to four cumulative years of residency to complete their degrees;
- require students to exit the Area in order to apply for a permit extension following the first 27 months of residency, although the period for which they must remain abroad during that application process is not stated in the directive; and
- vest within Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit within the Defense Ministry, authority to review permit applications, including the authority to require guarantees of up to 70,000 NIS (approximately $21,237 USD), which they may confiscate if they determine that permits have been violated.
Vague, overbroad, and incomplete provisions in the directive, particularly around COGAT’s role, raise serious concerns that applicants may be reviewed in an opaque and potentially arbitrary and inconsistent manner and that Palestinian higher education institutions will be severely impaired in their ability to recruit scholars. These provisions further compound our earlier concerns about historic patterns of restrictions on academic travel into and within the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), as described in our previous letter and in past reports.
For example, under the directive, COGAT would be vested with the authority to review the permit applications of foreign lecturers and researchers “who excel in necessary professions,” and only applicants deemed by COGAT to “contribute significantly to academic learning, to the Area’s economy, or to advancing regional cooperation and peace” would be eligible for permits beyond five months to travel and work in the West Bank. However, the directive does not define “necessary professions,” does not indicate the qualifications of COGAT officials to assess scholars’ work and contributions to “academic learning,” and does not indicate the process or timing for COGAT officials review of applications.
SAR is deeply concerned that the directive, if put in place, will substantially harm the Palestinian and international academic communities. Scholars currently employed at Palestinian higher education institutions who do not have residency permits as described in the directive would be at risk of being forced to depart and vacate their roles, upending courses and research projects that implicate hundreds, if not thousands, of local students and scholars. Palestinian universities would likely struggle to fill those vacancies or to recruit new international faculty and students under the requirements and limitations introduced by the directive, further disrupting teaching and research functions. The free exchange of ideas across borders—a pillar of quality higher education—would be substantially impaired, undermining Palestinians’ enjoyment of academic freedom and the right to education, and violating international human rights standards to which Israel is a party, including, for example, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers” (emphasis added).
SAR respectfully urges you to rescind the directive; ensure that Israeli immigration policies comply with international standards relating to academic freedom; and otherwise remove vague, arbitrary, or excessive restrictions on academic travel into and work within the West Bank and the OPT generally.
I appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your reply.
The Honorable Gideon Sa’ar
Minister of Justice, Israel
The Honorable Ayelet Shaked
Minister of the Interior, Israel
The Honorable Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton
Minister of Education, Israel
Chair of the Higher Education Council
Major General Ghasan Alyan
Head of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, Israel
The Honorable Dr. Mahmoud Abu Mowais
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Palestine
The Honorable Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Honorable Prof. S. Michael Lynk
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
The Honorable Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry
Special Rapporteur on the right to education