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Other Institutions
Communist stalwart Jacob Katriel, Technion (emeritus) rallies the masses for "Palestinian Residence Rights" Kulaks - beware!

DECEMBER 17-19, 2006


Conference Program

11:45 - 12:30
J. Katriel and Y. Avron, Technion, Israel
"Scientists, Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict"


Immigration policy forces researchers out of West Bank

A few kilometres outside the West Bank city
of Ramallah, not far from the rubble-strewn
compound where Yasser Arafat lived for many
years, lies the campus of Birzeit University. As
elsewhere on the West Bank, Birzeit’s students
and staff have learnt to live with the disruption
and casualties caused by the occupying
Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups.
But now the university says that it faces a nonviolent
but potentially more dangerous threat
to its existence: an Israeli policy that is forcing
academics to abandon their jobs.
Around a year ago, say Palestinian academics,
people with foreign passports started to
find that their access to the West Bank and
Gaza Strip was either denied or restricted by
Israeli border controls. That poses a serious
problem for universities. As there is no such
thing as a Palestinian passport, researchers
will, given the chance, often become naturalized
citizens of other nations — forfeiting their
right to Palestinian identification papers. Yet
the new policy means that those academics,
together with foreign staff, can find that a trip
abroad ends in involuntary exile.
At Birzeit, officials say that they cannot put
an exact figure on the number denied re-entry,
but say the policy is one reason that around half
of the university’s 57 foreign academics had to
leave last year. Campaigners say that other universities
in the regions have suffered the same
consequences, although precise data are not
available. “We don’t know why they are doing
this, but brain drain will be the end product,”
says Sarit Michaeli, communications director
for B’Tselem, an Israeli human-rights group
based in Jerusalem.
The rationale for the move is hard to confirm,
as the Israeli government initially said
that it was simply enforcing existing rules.
Many holders of foreign passports no longer
have residence permits for the occupied
territories and so have to repeatedly obtain
three-month tourist visas to live there. Israeli
officials said that the restrictions were designed
to end this misuse of tourist visas. A request for
clarification of this point received no reply.
But in meetings with foreign diplomats last
month, Israeli officials seemed to acknowledge
the problem, saying that they would start to
renew tourist visas and allow access to those
whose passports have been stamped “last
entry”. Palestinian campaigners say they have
since seen written confirmation of this intent,
but note that they have seen no sign of a change
in policy at the borders and that some foreignpassport
holders are still being refused entry.
If the restrictions continue, academics from
both sides of the border say they will fight them.
A small group banded together last October
to form the Israeli Committee for the Right of
Residency, which is attempting to persuade
Israel’s academics to take a stand against the
restrictions. Jacob Katriel, an emeritus physics
professor at Technion, the Israeli Institute
of Technology in Haifa, says the call was well
received when he presented it last month during
a session on human rights at the Statistical
Mechanics Conference at Rutgers University,
New Jersey.
Palestinian universities are also asking
foreign academics and scientific organizations
to protest against the rules. They say that the
loss of academic talent, together with a drop in
fees earned from foreign students, could destabilize
the fragile education and research infrastructure
of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. ■
Jim Giles

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