Conal Urquhart
The Guardian
October 12, 2007 - 2:02pm,,2188660,00.html

The Israeli army is continuing to bar Palestinian students from Israeli universities, in spite of an order from the Israeli high court that it relax its restrictions.

The army was asked to explain its policy in March 2006, but it has so far asked for delays on seven occasions. The delays mean that Palestinian students will miss the start of the Israeli term on October 15.

As the discrimination against Palestinian students continues, the UK University and College Union (UCU) announced last month that it would not be legal for it to discriminate against Israeli academics, students and institutions in protest against Israel's treatment of Palestinians.


Sari Bashi, the director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that has challenged the army ban, said: "No one should be denied access to higher education based on nationality. Academics - not army generals - should decide who studies at Israel's universities."

Palestinian citizens of Israel and holders of East Jerusalem identity cards are allowed to study at Israeli institutions, but residents of the West Bank and Gaza face restrictions.

It is not clear how many students have been affected because the army refuses to reveal how many permits it granted in the past.

There are a number of Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza, but they do not offer doctorates or MBAs. Many Palestinian students live in easy commuting distance of the Israeli universities they want to attend.

Earlier this month, the Israeli supreme court refused to intervene to help Palestinian student Khaled Mudallal return to his studies at Bradford University. Mr Mudallal returned to Gaza to get married, but was trapped when the borders were closed because of the outbreak of violence between Palestinian factions. Israel's terminal at Erez is open, but the army claims it cannot process requests to leave Gaza. And restrictions are equally harsh in the West Bank.

Ms Bashi said that the army ban appeared to begin in 2006. She said no change in policy was announced, but the army started refusing permits to Palestinian students who wanted to study in Israel.

Gisha petitioned the high court, but each time the army was expected to explain its criteria, it sought and was granted a postponement.

"On seven occasions the army has postponed," Ms Bashi said. "These delays serve to perpetrate the ban. The court has now asked the army to attend a hearing on November 1. It is already too late for this term, but hopefully we can get a change for next term."

Saed Hasan, an information technology consultant from Ramallah, was refused entry to Israel to take up a scholarship awarded to foster better relations between Israeli and Palestinian businesses. Mr Hasan was due to study for an MBA at Tel Aviv University on a course that was sponsored by Northwestern University in the US.

"The programme would allow me to study and work closely with executives from a neighbouring strong economy - Israel's - and help me contribute to the Palestinian economy. Our societies are interdependent," he said.

Last week, the Israeli army restated its ban on Mr Hasan, saying he had no right to enter Israel and adding for the first time that they had secret information that he had ties to terrorist groups.

"I was very disappointed but I kind of expected it," he said. "It would have been a dream to do this MBA because it has so many meanings for me and my colleagues at the business. It would have shown that you can still have normal personal and business relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in spite of everything."

Mr Hasan, speaking while on a business trip in California, said it was nonsense to suggest that he had any ties to militants. He said the best proof of this is the fact that he has been allowed to travel freely all over the world for his work.

"I am just a normal person trying to do my job. If the Israelis suspected that there was anything wrong, I would be in jail, not crossing borders and going to Israeli airports," he said.

Palestinians studying at Palestinian institutions also face a range of difficulties from the Israeli army. Increasingly, Palestinian students are confined to studying in their home towns. Birzeit University, near Ramallah, is less than an hour's drive from An-Najah University in Nablus, but it can take a Palestinian student all day to make the journey.

Students travelling to An-Najah from surrounding villages and towns have to leave their homes three or four hours early to make the short journey to class. Obstacles include the separation barrier, checkpoints, and road barriers that are opened at the whim of young soldiers.

Palestinian universities used to have students from all over the West Bank and Gaza, but now they are more local in character. This prevents the universities from becoming national cultural centres because their potential audience is restricted to people from the surrounding areas.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017