BY JOAN W. SCOTT
Threats to academic freedom abound the world over and it is dismaying to confront one crisis situation after another. The latest news comes from Birzeit University, in the West Bank. Professors there, and at other Palestinian universities in the Occupied Territories, who hold foreign passports have been prevented by the Israeli government from entering the country and/or having their visas renewed. Their presence is vital to the system of higher education and there is no justification, apart from sheer harassment, for this policy.
Ghassan Khatibl, a lecturer in Contemporary Arab and International Studies at Birzeit, posted this report on the university website:
We have 15 foreign passport-holding faculty members whose requests for visa renewals have been refused or significantly delayed. These faculty members have full-time status, work in all the various faculties on our campus, and include senior faculty and department chairpersons. Our faculty who are currently under threat teach in the BA, MA, and Ph.D. programs at Birzeit University, are members of university committees, and serve the larger Palestinian community through public seminars and lectures. Already some professors have been forced to leave the country; including one from the Department of English and Literature, and a professor of European History at the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute for International Studies who has devoted his entire academic career to Palestine and the university for the past four decades.
He goes on to talk about the long term ramifications of losing “the international perspectives, diverse professional experiences, and high-level skills these faculty members crucially bring to Palestinian academic life.” Isolation from “the global academic environment” is a danger to be avoided, especially given the already isolated conditions in which Palestinians live. Khatibl appeals to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Khatibl issues an urgent call for support from all of us to demand that Israel reverse this discriminatory policy. His entire statement can be read here. He asks that international pressure be brought to bear by “governments, institutions, academics, and associations” to “hold Israel accountable for its violations, and enjoin it to undertake its obligations under international law; to demand a halt to Israel’s arbitrary and abusive practice denying access to and presence of international educators and academics contributing to Palestinian’s educational development; and to make it incumbent on Israel to adopt and implement a clear documented and transparent policy enabling unhindered access and presence to foreign nationals who are coming to educate or promote educational development in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Whatever one’s position on the Israel/Palestine conflict, this seems to me a clear case of the exercise of arbitrary and discriminatory power, the violation of the academic freedom of universities (to chose their own faculties) and of faculty members (to teach in positions for which they have been hired). Letters of support can be sent to Ghassan Khatibl email@example.com.