Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Palestinian Students Accepted at Israeli Universities Wait in Limbo

Wednesday, October 17, 2007



Palestinian students on the West Bank are being prevented from taking their places at Israeli universities and colleges under a blanket government ban that was challenged almost a year ago by the Israeli Supreme Court.

But as the new academic year begins, the Israeli military commander in the West Bank has so far failed to comply with the court's request to provide clear criteria for denying Palestinian students access to Israel so they can attend class.

In December 2006, the court asked the Israeli government to explain its refusal to extend the six-month entry permit of Sawsan Salameh, a 30-year-old Palestinian woman who is a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (The Chronicle, January 12). Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch said that, in the absence of a "security or private reason preventing the extension of the permit, we assume the renewed permit will be granted."

Ms. Salameh's permit has been extended every six months since then, but each time the court has met to hear the army's criteria for banning other students, the government has requested an extension.

At the last hearing, in September, the three-judge panel headed by Justice Beinisch rejected requests for a further extension and set November 1 as the date for a hearing.

Enforcing Unwritten Criteria
Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human-rights group that sued the government, said the delay had effectively forced Palestinian students to miss the start of another semester. The Israeli academic year is scheduled to begin this month.

Gisha is also representing Saed Hasan, a West Bank student who was due on Monday to begin an executive M.B.A. program run jointly by Northwestern University and Tel Aviv University. Israel refused to give Mr. Hasan a permit, telling Tel Aviv University that he "does not meet the criteria." But the government has told the court that it has not yet drawn up the criteria.

"Since 2000 the unpublished criteria have apparently become stricter and stricter," said Ms. Bashi. "As a result, there has been a steady decline and a chilling effect on the willingness of Palestinian students to apply to Israeli universities and the willingness of the universities to accept them because they don't know if they will get permits."

Another petitioner to the court is the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, in southern Israel. The institute brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and other Arab students and academics to study regional environmental issues.

"Seven of our Palestinian students for this academic year need permits, and we put in a request two months ago and called almost every other day," said David Lehrer, executive director of the institute. "Last week we received a negative answer that none of the Palestinian students would be allowed to come to the institute. They had not checked the individual students but imposed a policy not to allow Palestinian students to study long-term programs in Israel."

"We challenged this ban in the Supreme Court last winter, and the court agreed with us that the ban was unreasonable," he said.

Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Israeli Government activities in the occupied territories, said that for security reasons, Palestinian undergraduates would be allowed to study in Israel only if the courses were not available in the West Bank. He said there was a specific problem with the Arava Institute because Palestinians were not allowed into that area of Israel except in exceptional cases and not for long periods.

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