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Israel's truthiness on Palestinian academic freedom

In denying that Israel limits academic freedom in Palestine, the Israeli embassy in Washington seems to forget about the Palestinian students and academics whose movement it restricts.

By Sari Bashi

The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. recently decried as baseless “the accusation that Israel arbitrarily limits the entry of foreign nationals who seek to lecture, teach and attend conferences at Palestinian universities.”

The embassy appears to be responding to protests and calls by American academics to boycott Israeli academic institutions, in response to restrictions on students and scholars accessing Palestinian universities. And yet in explaining Israeli travel policy, the embassy’s statement misleads, seemingly willfully.

There are numerous restrictions on access to Palestinian universities. Some are general restrictions on accessing Gaza and the West Bank that apply to everyone, including students and professors. Other restrictions specifically target Palestinian students, whom Israel has described as belonging to a “high risk profile” and Palestinian universities, which Israel describes as “greenhouses for growing terrorists.” While Israel has legitimate security concerns, in all cases the restrictions go way beyond what is necessary for security. Instead, they further political, demographic goals of consolidating power over the West Bank and separating it from the Gaza Strip.

The embassy compares restrictions on foreign nationals entering the West Bank to “common border control practice in countries worldwide.” True and not true.

Yes, it is common practice for countries to exercise discretion in determining which foreign nationals will enter its borders. But no, it is not common practice for countries to restrict the entry of foreign nationals into another territory, such as the West Bank and Gaza, which are not part of Israel.

Nearly half of Palestinian refugees live in the diaspora, including in Arab countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. These “foreign nationals” – who are actually Palestinian – cannot ordinarily get Israeli permission to enter the West Bank or Gaza and therefore cannot access Palestinian universities.

Similarly, Arab lecturers and students are unlikely to obtain access to the West Bank and Gaza, because Israeli rules on entry to the Palestinian territory bar most people holding travel documents from Arab or Muslim countries and even some American or European citizens of Arab descent or those who have spoken out against Israel.

Entry to Gaza requires not just an Israeli visa but also special permission from the military, which is limited to humanitarian cases. No students or professors are allowed.

The embassy’s claim that “the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is a functioning crossing, allowing entry to Gaza from Egypt” flies in the face of reality. Rafah has been mostly closed for the past three months, allowing only infrequent and exceptional passage that does not include students or academics seeking to access Gaza’s universities.

Regarding passage from Gaza to the West Bank, the embassy says that “under no circumstances are students and/or academic professionals being discriminated in the crossing procedure.” With all due respect, that statement strays far from the truth.

A Palestinian man from Gaza walks down an open air corridor at the Erez Crossing terminal, the northern checkpoint leading from the Gaza Strip to Israel, in the area of Beit Hanun, February 14, 2012. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian man from Gaza walks down an open air corridor at the Erez Crossing terminal, the northern checkpoint leading from the Gaza Strip to Israel, in the area of Beit Hanun, February 14, 2012. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Since 2000, Israel has banned Palestinian students from Gaza from studying in Palestinian universities in the West Bank. The ban is part of Israel’s separation policy, to limit travel between Gaza and the West Bank, especially the kind of travel that would nurture long-term ties between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, such as young people studying or marrying (for those who want more information, play Gisha’s computer game on Gaza-West Bank crossing).

Gisha’s latest challenge to that ban in the High Court raised the case of students from Gaza seeking to complete Master’s degrees in gender and democracy and human rights at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Some of these students received permits to enter the West Bank for other, short-term purposes, such as conferences or medical care, clearing Israeli security and crossing through Israel to reach the West Bank. But their requests to enter the West Bank and remain there for the months or years necessary to complete their degrees were rejected.

By noting that 54 students from Gaza crossed into the West Bank last week, the embassy simply highlights the arbitrary nature of the policy. Those students were allowed to cross through Israel and the West Bank and on to Jordan, to fly to their universities abroad. None was allowed to stop in the West Bank and remain there – to study at the Palestinian universities established for his or her benefit.

As an occupying power, Israel is authorized to impose restrictions necessary for security. But it also must facilitate the proper functioning of the Palestinian higher educational system. Sadly, that latter obligation is not being met.

I am of course not privy to the nonpublic communications channel of the Israeli embassy in Washington: its feedback to the Israeli government. I can only hope that, alongside their public relations campaign, embassy staff members are asking their bosses in Israel to end the restrictions that are sparking the protest of American academics and undermining the potential for a more enriched academic environment in which ideas and innovation thrive.

The author is the co-founder of Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. Read an interview with her here.

A siege of inertia: Israel’s non-policy on Gaza
Visualizing Occupation: Freedom of movement

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Yesterday’s New York Times: “Why I Won’t Serve Israel”:


      Last year brought something of a surge in refusals. Open letters of refusal were published by a group of high schoolers, a group of reservists, veterans of the elite intelligence Unit 8200 and alumni and former staff members of the prestigious Israel Arts and Sciences Academy. All were denounced by politicians and in the media: In September, the Knesset’s opposition leader, the Labor member Isaac Herzog, blasted the letter from Unit 8200 as “insubordination.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Weiss

      Restricting academic freedom is not compatabile with Democracy. In Israel this policy is based purely upon Racism and the intentional suppression of mental development to which ALL peoples are ENTITLED.

      Denying higher education to those in need is pure EVIL…

      And yet ANOTHER reason why I am Ashamed to be Jewish.

      Will the list ever stop growing?

      Reply to Comment
      • victor arajs

        I feel your pain. Why not formally leave Judaism? It would be a powerful statement

        Reply to Comment
        • C.C. DeVille

          The person you names after is responsible for plenty of Jews leaving Judiasm. And this Earth.

          You are a filthy piece of sh!t, Arab

          Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          I’m not religious but if I were I would be very unhappy about a bunch of ethno-supremacist warlords attempting to hijack Judaism, fanatical jihadis attempting to hijack islam, and homophobic pro-Zionist fundamentalists attempting to hijack Christianity.

          Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            Bryan, what is this convoluted rant about? Do you have any substantive point to make or do you just have that uncontrollable urge to make yourself noticed with your usual erratic, incoherent anti-Semitic rants (which you sometimes try to disguise by throwing “Jihadis” in the mix), little old man?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            I understand that for simple minds logic is convoluted but Weiss simply said he had another reason to be ashamed of being Jewish, Victor said “Go now”, I simply said that Judaism has been there for much longer than Zionism and that Weiss holds the higher ground and should not feel ashamed of his faith / culture which has been commandeered by a bunch of primarily irreligious cowboys intent on conquering the west (bank) with six-guns ablaze and no marshall in town to maintain law and order, and that the rise in fundamentalist bigotry seems to apply to all religions. Nothing convoluted at all.

            Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            Your convoluted and incoherent mumbo jumbo is there for everyone to read, Bryan, and has nothing to do with the substance of Weiss’ post, because said post is not about “a bunch of ethno-supremacist warlords attempting to hijack Judaism”, blah, blah, blah! Your latest rant is as well convoluted, incoherent and depicts a depraved, confused and chaotic mind. On this site alone, you have on several occasions several leveled blood-libels against Jews regardless of whether or not they are religious and posted numerous comments inherently riddled with some of the oldest and vilest form of old European anti-Semitism, while hiding behind the old tired cliché of being only against “Zionists” (who constitute 99.9% of the entire Jewry), not Judaism. A fool like your old little self, Bryan, knows not, but wallows in the illusion that he knows, while in truth making a public buffoon of himself. What a turd!

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            I think you are getting to the heart of the matter. There is the old form of antisemitism which was the irrational hatred of Jews. That thankfully waned (to be replaced by Islamophobia, hatred of Arabs, immigrants and other groups). Then some bright spark invented new antisemitism (the failure to love Israel enough; the international resentment of colonial occupation, ethnic cleansing, dispossession, the denial of national rights etc).

            Now if indeed you are right that 99.9% of the entire world Jewry are Zionists then the old antisemitism = new antisemitism. If you are wrong then these are two quite separate matters. If you can demonstrate that 99.9% of Jews are Zionists then I will shut up because I abhor all forms of racism including “old” anti-Semitism. So please give me some evidence.

            Hersh Lowenthal estimates 69% (http://www.truetorahjews.org/qanda/demographics); Pew Research found that caring about Israel is not an important element of Jewish American identity (it actually ranked 5th behind remembering the Holocaust, leading an ethical and moral life, working for justice/equality, and being intellectually curious.) See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/10/03/8-fascinating-trends-in-how-american-jews-think-about-israel/

            Perhaps it depends on how you define Zionism. If you define Zionism as support for the continued existence of a predominantly Jewish state within its 1948 boundaries then you could get a figure of 99.9% (and by the way I would then put my hand up to being a Zionist). If you define Zionism as support for the current Israeli government and all its policies you would get a figure much nearer to 50%. If you define Zionism as support for Greater Israel, its settlement policies, its discrimination against non-Jews and its refusal to recognize Palestinian self-determination and work towards a lasting and effective peace you would get a figure much nearer to ZERO.

            Reply to Comment
      • Dis

        No…it has and always is getting longer and longer and we are the ones getting scapegoated by them – that zionism. I no longer pray for this abomination of a ‘state’ in fact; I joined Satmar for their anti-zionism and calls for Palestine to be restored. Rabbi Joel is such an inspiration for me and has never deviated from his message of Palestine’s vital role in Judaisms survival.

        Do not leave us, join your nearest anti zionist community. Some are Palestinian Jews who live in exile and still carry, deeds, currency, contracts, legislative works, artistic mementos by the artists of that time and photographic evidence of their neighborhoods and of their lives in Palestine before Zionists invaded. They aren’t a small community either despite what Zionists insist. They are HUGE and they are only growing.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Tomer

      Israel is NOT responsible for the Aza – Egypt border.

      If you have any beef with the Egyptian policies i suggest you raise it with their Government.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        But Israel IS responsible for all the crossings into Judea/Samaria. and these gazan young adults want to study in the west bank…
        Israel already acknowledges that Gaza and the West Bank are part of one entity by facilitating the transfer of hard currency between Bank of Palestine branches in both territories.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Israel allowed Gaza merchants to enter Israel and buy materials for Gaza, including concrete and rebar. Hamas exploited those merchants to import concrete and rebar for its terrorist infrastructure.

          To allow Gazan students to travel to study in the West Bank would facilitate the transfer of Hamas missile technology to the West Bank, the transfer of funds for terrorist cells, the transfer of terrorists and attacks on Israelis.

          Israel made a grave mistake in the wake of the Oslo Accords in allowing in terrorists and there is no reason for Israel to allow the importation of more terrorists, terrorist technology and monies to carry out terrorist attacks in the West Bank. Hamas leaders have said time and time again it wants to transfer its weapons and tactics to the West Bank and Israel has every reason to prevent them from doing so. There is a reason there has been a separation barrier between Gaza and Israel and for Israel’s legal maritime blockade of Gaza. It is called security. Hamas seeks to destroy Israel and a genocide of all Jews.

          In addition, Hezbollah and Iran have again and again said that they help fund terrorists in the West Bank. Israel ought not provide them with more terrorists to fund.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Tomer

      Aza is an ENEMY state run by Islamic Fundamentalist Extremists. No Azans are allowed to cross into Israel.

      Let them go to the peaceful utopian democracy of Egypt and become academics there.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        of course Gazans are allowed to cross into israel, whether for medical treatment, transit to jordan, or even to visit al-aqsa.
        Gaza still falls under the purview of COGAT, and all your blathering doesn’t change how the israeli government views Gaza.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bar

      Thank you to the author for demonstrating clearly that Israel is not undermining academic freedom for the Palestinians.

      Seriously, if this is the best you can do, it’s time to close up shop. Join another anti-Israel NGO or something.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        […] Treason and loyalty are themes of “Judas.” They have been on [Amos] Oz’s mind. “The protagonist points out that almost every significant political leader in history was called a traitor by many of his own people — Abraham Lincoln, de Gaulle, Gorbachev, Begin, Sadat, Rabin,” the novelist told me. “The day people in this country start calling Netanyahu a traitor I will know that something may change.”

        Oz, the conscience of a certain liberal and secular Israel still committed to a two-state outcome, called Benjamin Netanyahu “a coward, a man who prefers inaction to action.”

        “He has been in power for some nine years,” Oz said. “In those nine years he has not made one, even one, really controversial decision either way.” […]


        Reply to Comment
        • ICat

          Bar, pls. forgive Brian. He doesn’t have a mind of his own, he can’t make sustained coherent arguments and can only plagiarize and/or copy and paste the opinions of others to compensate for his empty mind. He also does not understand what he copies and pastes and as a result pastes off topic and/or out of context, while feverishly seeking attention. Brian, go take your ADHD meds. Now!

          Reply to Comment
        • ICat

          Bar, pls. forgive Brian. He doesn’t have a mind of his own (suffers from ADHD), he can’t make sustained coherent arguments and can only plagiarize and/or copy and paste the opinions of others to compensate for his empty mind. He also does not understand what he copies and pastes and as a result pastes off topic and/or out of context, while feverishly seeking attention. Brian, go take your ADHD meds. Now!

          Reply to Comment
          • Josh

            Good morning Sluggofuck, old crackhead fascist

            Reply to Comment
    6. Joel Cantor

      I’m confused!
      The PLO seeks the destruction of Israel. So why should Israel allow the free movement of PLO supporters into its territory or into territory it occupies?

      Reply to Comment
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