Palestinian Students Still Banned from Israeli Universities

Mon., October 8, 2007 – Israel still banning Palestinian students from studying at Israeli universities – despite a 2006 Supreme Court decision asking the military to change its policy and despite intense pressure to cancel the sweeping ban. Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement revealed the continuation of the ban in a court petition filed on behalf of a Palestinian high tech executive barred from reaching his MBA studies at Tel Aviv University. The military must answer the petition this week.

The student, Saed Hasan, was refused entry to Israel to attend the Kellogg-Recanati International Executive MBA program, run by Northwestern University (U.S) and Tel Aviv University. The military refused a request by Tel Aviv University to give Mr. Hasan a permit – saying that Palestinian students are not permitted to study in Israel.

The court ordered the military to answer the petition by Oct. 10. If the military does not reverse its blanket refusal – Mr. Hasan will lose his place in the MBA class, to begin Oct. 15. Mr. Hasan, an executive at a high tech company in Ramallah, already lost his place in last year’s class, because of the ban – which was supposed to be canceled. The program, for which Mr. Hasan received a scholarship set aside for Palestinian students, is designed to foster Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation. The ban means that no residents of the Palestinian territories will be allowed to study there.

The military is continuing the ban despite a Dec. 2006 court decision asking for a change in policy and despite pleas from Israel’s universities to let them admit all students who meet the academic criteria – regardless of nationality.

Gisha has told Israel’s High Court that the sweeping ban violates the right of Palestinian students to access education and the academic freedom of Israeli academic institutions. Crucial degrees – including PhDs and the international executive MBA – are not available in the West Bank, where restrictions on freedom of movement prevent foreign lecturers and experts from accessing Palestinian universities and make it difficult for Palestinian students and lecturers to reach their classes and research.

“The program would allow me to study and work closely with executives from a neighboring strong economy – Israel’s – and help me contribute to the Palestinian economy,” said the student, Saed Hasan. “Our societies are interdependent.”

“No one should be denied access to higher educationbased on nationality" said Gisha’s Director, Sari Bashi. “Academics – not army generals –– should decide who studies at Israel’s universities.”

Addendum to News Release:

Ban on Palestinian Students Studyingin Israel
Beginning in 2006 if not earlier, Israel’s military instituted a total ban on Palestinian students studying in Israeli universities. In October 2006, Gishachallenged the ban as part of a well-publicized court petition filed on behalf of a Palestinian doctoral student, Sawsan Salameh, who was banned from attending the Hebrew University. Like all Palestinian students, Ms. Salameh was barred from entering Israel for study – even though there was no allegation that her entry to Israel would pose a security risk.

Following a December 2006 decision by Israel’s Supreme Court, the military was to submit criteria for allowing at least some Palestinians to study at Israeli universities. At the time, military spokespersons gave assurances that the policy would change.

But the military has repeatedly delayed submitting its reply to the court, originally due in February 2007 –now perpetuating the ban to the 2007-2008 academic year. In response the military’s seventh request for an extension, Israel’s High Court has ordered a hearing in the Salameh petition for late October – too late for the start of the academic year on October 15.

In June, the military announced that it would continue to ban all Gaza residents from studying in Israel, and that any policy change – would apply to West Bank residents only. But this year, too – West Bank residents are barred from attending Israeli universities.

The sweeping ban on Palestinian students studying in Israel has come under intense criticism by academics and educators in Israel and abroad. In an unprecedented move, the heads of six of seven of Israel’s universities sent an urgent, public letter to the Defense Minister asking him to cancel the ban. Israel’s National Academy of Sciences, Education Minister, and the Knesset Committee on Education have also publicly urged the Defense Minister to cancel the ban, arguing that it violates the academic freedom of the Israeli academy and harms Israel’s reputation abroad, including by fueling calls for boycott of Israeli academics.

International institutions promoting academic freedom, among them Nobel Prize Laureates, have joined the call to cancel the ban.

At a December 2006 hearing at the Knesset Committee on Education, then-dean of the Recanati Business School Shimon Beninga (Tel Aviv University) urged that the ban be canceled, noting that it barred talented students like Mr. Hasan from programs designed especially for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

According to the Kellogg-Recanati web site describing the international executive MBA program“ :A typical class profile includes up to 25% non-Israelis, of which Palestinians and Jordanians are the majority.” The ban means no Palestinian students can attend.

Gisha attorney Noam Peleg submitted the court petition on behalf of Mr. Hasan, arguing that Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank, owes obligations to protect Mr. Hasan’s right to access education and to allow the Palestinian educational system to develop – including by allowing students to access advanced degree programs.