On December 23, 2020, the Israeli Ofer Military Court convicted and sentenced Birzeit University student Elia Abu Hijleh to 11 months’ imprisonment on charges of belonging to a “prohibited student group.” During this reporting period, two more Birzeit students who were being held on similar charges—Ruba Assi and Layan Kayed—were sentenced to 16 to 18 months’ imprisonment and fines ranging from $900 to $1,300.
The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom has reported that Israeli authorities continue to detain more than 300 Palestinian students.
Checkpoints and Travel Restrictions
Israeli state authorities continue to impose on scholars and students an array of policies that restrict their movement and severely hinder their enjoyment of the right to education and academic freedom. These include checkpoints and travel permits imposed on all Palestinians, as well as targeted pressures that directly impact the international academic community.
For example, Israeli authorities have obstructed international scholars’ travel to the West Bank by denying visa renewal requests, despite their holding long-term university appointments and not posing a credible security risk.
These restrictions prevented international scholars from taking up or resuming appointments at universities in the West Bank, including at Birzeit University, which reported a third of its international faculty missing from campus by the start of the 2019-2020 academic year due to visa-related difficulties. (See a related article, “Palestinian Universities Say Israeli Restrictions Force Foreign Professors Out”.)
A Threat to Society at Large
In the network’s news release, Clare Robinson, Scholars at Risk’s advocacy director, said: “The frequency and global reach of these attacks should be alarming, not only to those in higher education, but to society at large.”
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She warned that these attacks demonstrate a shrinking of the space for free inquiry and discourse. “If we are to safeguard higher education’s unique ability to foster solutions to the most urgent problems of the day, governments, university leaders, and civil society must publicly demonstrate a commitment to prevent these attacks and promote academic freedom,” Robinson said. “We must reject violence aimed at punishing ideas, protect threatened scholars and students, and champion the freedom to think.”
Scholars at Risk is an international network of over 550 higher education institutions and thousands of individuals in more than 40 countries. Its mission is to protect and offer sanctuary to threatened scholars and students around the world, and to promote academic freedom.
See a collection of articles from Al-Fanar Media related to academic freedom in the Arab world.