CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
September 3, 2009
By Matthew Kalman
Ramallah, West Bank
Israel has clamped down on the movement of foreign academics teaching at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, barring some from entering the region altogether or stamping "Palestinian Authority only" in the passports of others, preventing them from entering Israel.
An English-language instructor from Ireland who taught for several years at the Arab American University, in Jenin, was refused entry on August 23 when she returned to the West Bank to take up a new position at Bethlehem University and is now unable to teach. A Canadian instructor of Iranian descent was given the "Palestinian Authority only" stamp when he arrived on Sunday to teach at the Arab American University's English Language Center. A British lecturer in Middle East politics had to cancel a planned lecture at Birzeit University this year after she was denied entry by Israeli immigration officials.
The Irish instructor, who asked not to be named, said she had been teaching English at the Arab American University since 2007. Although the Israeli authorities refused to issue her a work permit, in the past they had always accepted her employment contract and extended her tourist visa to the contract's end date.
She left the West Bank for Jordan on August 20 and returned via the Allenby Bridge, which connects the West Bank with Jordan, on August 23, with 11 days left on her visa.
"I was due to take up a new position at Bethlehem University on August 24. I had a letter from the university on official paper, but it was all very different this time," she told The Chronicle from Jordan, where she was stranded. "I was kept waiting for four hours and then the immigration officer started screaming at me about a lack of work permit."
After lengthy interrogation by a plainclothes security officer and an Israeli Ministry of the Interior official, she was photographed, fingerprinted, and told her request to enter was denied.
"It is greatly to be regretted, she was a valued employee," said Graham Stott, chair of the department of modern languages at the Arab American University.
Mr. Stott said several lecturers who were allowed in were issued visas restricting them to the Palestinian Authority areas only.
"For some the restrictive visa is not problematic because they are here to work in Jenin, and they are quite happy to leave via Jordan and so it doesn't really affect them. For others who had planned to visit Israel it seriously compromises their position and their ability to do research," Mr. Stott said.
Information for travelers posted on the Web site of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem confirms the recent change in policy.
"Anyone indicating that they either have connections to the West Bank or are planning to travel to the West Bank, may get this stamp," which does not permit them to enter into or return to Israel. "The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status changed," the Web site states. It is not clear when or why the new visas were introduced. The Israeli Defense Ministry directed all inquiries to the coordinator of Israeli government activities in the territories. A spokesman for the coordinator directed inquiries to the country's Interior Ministry, where a spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.
The new visa being stamped in tourists' passports has been criticized for unfairly limiting the movements of visitors with Palestinian relatives or friends, whose first stop may be the West Bank but who intend to visit Israel as well. Many Americans of Palestinian origin but who lack Palestinian passports have been turned back on arrival at Ben Gurion Airport and told they can enter only from Jordan via the Allenby Bridge.
Hanadi Abu-Taha, administrative assistant at the Arabic-language-teaching program at Birzeit University, told The Chronicle that two American students and one Japanese student were turned back at the Jordanian-Israeli border at the end of August.
"None of them is from a Palestinian background. Students who came through Ben Gurion Airport managed to enter, but those who came through the land crossing from Jordan were refused. We don't know why," Miss Taha said.
"Because of the visa problems we have shortened the semester from four to three months, which is the length of the Israeli tourist visa. It is causing major disruption," she said.
Toufic Haddad, a Palestinian-American activist who revealed the new policy on his blog in early August said the new visa was a violation of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Agreement (known as the Oslo II Accords), which allows for most foreign tourists to pass from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel.
"Most visiting faculty have been granted a one-year single-entry visa if they are associated with an educational institution, but some haven't," said Salwa Duaibis, coordinator of the Right to Enter Campaign, a group advocating unfettered access to the Palestinian Authority areas. "I have a feeling there isn't much effort put into making sure the regulations are understood by the police at the border."
Ms. Duaibis said that foreign students enter on tourist visas and can be forced to leave after three months. "Universities cannot plan their academic year properly and neither students nor professors can rely on the arrangement 100 percent," she said.