The biggest problem, he said, is the uncertainty facing the dual academic programs at Al-Quds University. Such programs grant degrees from two universities and require the continuous presence of foreign academics.
Barghouthi also pointed out that previous Israeli restrictions on foreign academics’ entry to Palestine, and granting them a three-month tourist visa, caused the suspension of an academic cooperation program he helped organise between the Department of Physics at Al-Quds University and NASA.
Formalising the existing Israeli restrictions, he said, “makes it more difficult to change decisions, makes it impossible to circumvent them, and reinforces the idea that outside world’s cooperation with West Bank universities is impossible.”
Language Programmes May Close
At Birzeit University, the decision may force about nine language programs taught by foreign academics to close, according to Al-Khatib, the vice president. It could also force the university to suspend its Palestinian Arab Studies Program, for foreign students who want to learn Arabic and increase their understanding of the Palestinian and Arab situation.
According to Al-Khatib, Birzeit University usually employs about 40 foreign academics, and has 60 international students. The current restrictions have forced a number of foreign academics to leave, he added.
Ahmed Azzam is one of those who had to take a leave from Birzeit University in August and resigned from his position as an advisor to the Palestinian prime minister. That was after he was forced to live for seven years away from his family due to the occupation authorities’ refusal to grant his wife a visa to enter the Palestinian territories.
Azzam, who is currently a professor of international relations at Qatar University, told Al-Fanar Media that the previous Israeli restrictions on the movement of foreign academics prevented him from carrying out his academic mission at Birzeit University.
The restrictions prevented at least 10 percent of foreign students from enrolling in the Palestinian Arab Studies Program, which he led between 2012 and 2014, he said. Moreover, British, Japanese and European universities cancelled their contracts with the programme “because entry visas are not guaranteed”.
The new restrictions “will accelerate the transformation of Palestine’s higher education into a limited local education, isolated even from the Palestinian community itself,” he added.
Seeking Diplomatic Support
Amid such concerns, Palestinian institutions launching campaigns to explain the repercussions of the decision and prevent its official activation. They called on Western governments, international academic institutions, and foreign ambassadors in the Palestinian territories to condemn the decision as a violation of the right to education stipulated by numerous international conventions.
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Al-Khatib said the hope was that communicating with foreign embassies and university partners would create a front to put more pressure on Israel to reverse the decision.
Similarly, Barghouthi called for a petition campaign to collect signatures of influential Western academics in Europe and the United States to oppose the Israeli restrictions and support the rights of Palestinian universities.
The Israeli decision, he said, “amounts to a decree to isolate Palestinian educational institutions from the outside world and curtail their educational impact.”