In June 2018, it was reported that Israeli authorities — who control travel into and out of the West Bank — had restricted the travel of several international faculty at Birzeit University, through a series of visa-related decisions which left several faculty unable to remain in positions that they held on a long-term basis.
Foreign passport holders living in Palestine, including international scholars and students, are only eligible for temporary visitor visas; foreign scholars have been able to commit to long-term university positions on the presumption that their visas would be renewed. In June 2018, however, Birzeit University (BZU) and others reported a series of apparently arbitrary and opaque decisions by Israeli authorities denying or otherwise restricting the visas of foreign faculty, leaving them with little choice but to leave the country, despite holding long-term appointments and not posing a credible security risk. These scholars have reportedly faced administrative burdens including: shifting visa documentation requirements; arbitrarily shortened visa periods; restrictions on their movement within the West Bank; demands for financial bonds of up to 80,000 NIS (roughly $22,000 USD); and a lack of transparency regarding the application of visa-related rules.
For example, BZU history professor Roger Heacock and BZU health researcher Laura Wick — a married couple, both of whom are United States citizens — had been living and working in the West Bank since 1983. In May 2018, after a trip abroad, they were reportedly given two-week temporary visitor visas and informed they would be able to renew their visas shortly thereafter. After Israeli authorities failed to respond to their visa renewal applications, however, they were compelled to leave the country out of concern that their time out of lawful status would place them at increasing legal risk.
BZU has reported that, during the 2017-2018 academic year, fifteen foreign scholars — on third of its total international faculty — were subject to denials or significant delays in their visa renewals; eight of these denials (including those of Heacock and Wick) occurred in June and July 2018.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparently arbitrary restrictions on travel and immigration status of foreign university faculty, which inevitably harm universities by divesting them of long-term faculty and limit the international exchange of ideas on campus. Restrictions on travel intended to restrict academic freedom, freedom of expression, or related rights may violate applicable international humanitarian law or human rights standards. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party, and which protects the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.” Authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with academic activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions targeting higher education institutions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.