How Israel frustrates Palestine’s education

In the current issue of Times Higher Education (13 September), you’ll find a piece by Palestine’s Raja Shehadeh, about the way Israel discourages foreign faculty from teaching in Palestine.  Precisely half of the 64 foreign academics working in Palestine, have been adversely affected by denial or restriction in their permission to work, over the past two academic years. 

Once a university has invited a foreign academic to join its faculty, Israel uses an opaque two-tier system of control, through the Civil Administration in the occupied territory and, if an application clears that hurdle, the power of veto by Israel’s Interior Ministry.  The process is uncertain, Kafkaesque and has every appearance of being discriminatory, to impair the fundamental purpose of education, the dissemination of knowledge and the deepening of understanding. Unable to plan their future, such applicants give up, seeking employment elsewhere. Some Palestinian-born faculty educated in the US or Europe have also been denied residency. 

Israel’s handling of these applications seems tainted with illegality. In his ground-breaking book, Occupier’s Law, published in 1985, Shehadeh showed how the Civil Administration in the West Bank, which issues (or withholds) work permits, was created as part and parcel of ‘solutions for the legal problems encountered in achieving the goal of annexing the West Bank without its inhabitants,’ itself a profoundly illegal process. 

The second tier of Israeli control, however, lies within Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, which issues (or withholds) entry visas for residence in the Occupied Territory. Even where visas are issued, visa extensions may be denied on the grounds that foreigners may not reside in Israel for more than five years. But they are, of course, residing in the Palestinian territory, not in Israel. Under the Laws of Occupation, it may be debatable whether this illegally transfers powers that should remain within occupied territory. Yet it clearly transgresses operative clause 5 of the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016), which requires all Member States, and that of course includes Israel itself, ‘to distinguish in all their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.’  

It also inhibits fulfilment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Education shall be directed to the full developments of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.’ (Art. 26) How can that be, if academic institutions are themselves denied these fundamental freedoms, including to recruit internationally? Referral to the Interior Ministry is one of myriad ways in which Israel deliberately erodes human and civil rights, and also the 1949 Armistice Line, as if the whole territory were part of Israel, as Shehadeh foresaw over 30 years ago.

 Until the international community finds the political will to ensure that Israeli violations of international law and principles of conduct lead to uncomfortably adverse consequences, the Palestinians will remain an unfree people with limited rights, even in the field of learning. 

* David McDowall worked for UNRWA in the 1970s, and was an Oxfam relief worker during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Since then he’s written on Middle Eastern and British history.

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  • I can confirm the problems that David McDowall reports for foreign academics taking up positions in Palestinian universities. I have visited three of their universities in recent years and only last year heard accounts of faculty having to leave the country every 6 months and come back in again to renew their papers. Sometimes they are arbitrarily refused entry on the return visit and so are unable to retrieve possessions and have to return with their families to their home countries with all the disruption to career and family life that would involve.
    Students spending time in Palestinian universities are, I was told, subject to the same arbitrary behaviour – thus making it very difficult to pursue a course of study or research. These policies of course have the effect of discouraging both faculty and students from going to Palestinian universities at all, as I am sure the occupation forces intend.
    Israeli universities of course experience no such difficulties and can easily recruit students and faculty from abroad on very flexible terms. These difficulties are well known in British academia which is one of the reasons why the academic boycott of Israeli universities is popular among university teachers.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Sep '18 - 6:24pm

    I don’t understand Israel’s strategy concerning Palestine. Sooner or later they will have to compromise and accommodate the will of the Palestinians. Sooner is preferable to later.

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