Israeli visa crackdown affects Palestinian higher education

Two US citizens and long-time academics at Birzeit University were recently forced to leave the country as Israeli authorities denied the renewal of their visas.

Roger Heacock, professor of history, and his wife Laura Wick, midwife and health researcher, both have been working and living in Palestine since 1983.

The two told Al Jazeera that over the last decade they were forced to make short trips out of the country every three to six months in an attempt renew their B2 visitor visas. Despite their official, salaried work, this visitor visa is the only option for internationals to live in Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority has no control over the issuing of visas, since it doesn’t control its own borders.

The Palestinian civil affairs commission stated that the Israeli visa renewal rate has dropped from 70 percent to 10 percent over the last year.

Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, issued a statement last month condemning the breach of academic freedom as foreign passport-holding academics are routinely denied entry or visa extension to the country.

Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year, scores of academics holding foreign passports – many of Palestinian descent – living and working in the occupied West Bank have either been denied visa renewal by Israeli authorities or denied entry all together.

At Birzeit University alone, the statement reads, we have 15 foreign passport-holding faculty members whose requests for visa renewals have been refused or significantly delayed.

The presence of international educators is critical to keeping Palestinian universities connected to the global academic environment. Diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skill sets among a university staff is a cornerstone of academic excellence in the 21st century, the statement exclaimed.

The statement also evoked Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that demands the universal right to a higher education and claimed it to be under threat if Israel’s immigration policies continue to restrict foreign movement into the West Bank.

Israel’s crackdown on administering visas effectively traps people inside the Palestinian-controlled Area A. Academics invited to participate in international conferences and symposiums often deny the chance for fear of not being let back in the country.

For people grudgingly awaiting to back from the application process, traveling around the West Bank – meaning through the multiple checkpoints in between Palestinian cities and villages – risk getting arrested and/or deported.

At least six other international faculty members of Birzeit University have been denied visa renewal since June.

Source: Palestine Monitor