Earlier this month, Israeli military authorities issued a new directive marking a major tightening of restrictions on international faculty and students teaching and learning at Palestinian universities in a step described by Birzeit University as imposing a ‘siege’ on Palestinian education.
For the first time since Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began in 1967, Palestinian higher education institutions face a cap on the number of international faculty and students, including Palestinians without Palestinian Authority identity cards, that they may have attending universities each year. The new regulations, which will come into effect in May, will also require international students and faculty to demonstrate that they meet other criteria set by Israeli military authorities, including contributing ‘significantly to academic learning, to the Area's economy, or to advancing regional cooperation and peace’.
Responding to the announcement, Birzeit University issued a statement condemning the new policy for attempting to restrict ‘the fundamental right of Palestinians to education and to undermine the academic freedom and autonomy of Palestinian universities’. The Right to Education Campaign, which has been raising awareness about the impact of the occupation on Palestinian education for the past two decades, explained the significance of these new measures,
While the Israeli practices of exclusion and isolation of Palestinian higher education are not new, these proposed regulations are intended to become a regular policy. The Israeli military are formalizing into a law, an existing vague and arbitrary policy. The codification of the restrictions included in these regulations is dangerous.
Commenting on the impact of these measures, the Right to Education campaign emphasised that this is not an isolated step,
“Blocking our right to recruit international faculty and have students teach and learn at Birzeit University is part of an ongoing effort by the Israeli occupation to marginalize Palestinian institutions of higher education. This escalation is part of a systematic and longstanding Israeli policies and practices of undermining our sovereignty, and are meant to further erode higher education and the very idea of Palestinian universities, like Birzeit.”
Efforts are now underway to mobilise opposition to the new policies, with Birzeit and Palestinian higher education at large seeking international support in their effort to exercise their basic rights.
“Like other higher-education institutions across the world”, the Right to Education campaign are insisting, “Palestinian universities should have international faculty and students present to teach, learn, and exchange knowledge without any restrictions. The Palestinian academic community are joining as one to reject these regulations, and will continue to fight for this proposed procedure to be abolished, and for our sovereign right to be a [free and independent] university.”