Israel to Decide for Palestinians Which Foreign Lecturers Can Teach at West Bank Universities

A set of procedures published by the Defense Ministry puts further restrictions on who can enter, work and stay in the West Bank

Israel will permit Palestinian institutions of higher education to employ lecturers from overseas only if they teach in fields that have been designated as essential by Israel, and only if the lecturers and researchers are accomplished and possess at least a doctorate, according to a new set of procedures by the Defense Ministry.

Aspiring instructors will have to submit applications for such permits at the Israeli consulate in the applicant’s country of origin. The procedure states that only authorized persons at the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) can approve the entry of an instructor “after they have proven to our satisfaction that the lecturer will make a significant contribution to academic education, to the regional economy or to the promotion of regional cooperation and peace.” The number of lecturers will be limited by a quota to be determined by Israel, which currently stands at 100.

Last month, COGAT published new instructions regarding foreign citizens who wish to enter and reside in the West Bank. The document, titled “procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria region,” will go into effect in May and will work in a pilot format for the next two years. It determines that a quota of just 150 foreign students a year will be permitted to study at Palestinian academic institutions, and allows COGAT to limit the fields of study at Palestinian universities that are open to foreign students.

Each student will be required to be questioned at an Israeli diplomatic mission in their country of origin, after which an authorized COGAT representative will weigh the results of the interview and the student’s documents to determine whether to grant them a visa.

The procedure states that documents from students and outstanding lecturers must include an official invitation from the Palestinian Authority, but does not specify which PA institution should give that invitation should come from. The permits for students and lecturers will be valid for one year with an option to extend. The maximum period that foreign lecturers will be allowed to teach at Palestinian universities is five non-consecutive years. This period must include a stay of at least nine months overseas following the first 27 months in the West Bank. The maximum period of study for foreign students is four years for graduate studies and five years for doctoral and postdoctoral studies.

The procedure applies only to citizen of countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel. Although Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have diplomatic relations with Israel, their citizens will have to apply for a visitor’s permit for a shorter period, which is even more difficult to obtain.

The new procedures come after 15 years of Israel gradually tightening limitations on entry of citizens of friendly countries, whose destination is the Palestinian communities (and not settlements) in the West Bank. The worsening limitations also target spouses of Palestinian residents, businesspeople, lecturers and students. Over the years, this policy was the subject of dozens of petitions to the High Court of Justice. The state’s response to these petitions was that the authorities were formulating a new policy on the issue; decisions on the matter were therefore postponed.

The petitioners hoped that the new procedure would respect the right of the Palestinians and their institutions to operate according to their choices and needs in developing the Palestinian economy, business and academic ties with other countries. The new policy, however, codifies a stricter approach and further intensifies the invasive interference of COGAT in the civil and family affairs of Palestinians.

The procedure differentiates between a short-term visitor’s visa (up to three months with the possibility to extend by a further three months), which is received at a border crossing, and long-term visas that require an application to be submitted months in advance. Short-term permits can be obtained by spouses, children aged 16 and under and other immediate relatives of Palestinian residents, as well as by businesspeople, investors and journalists who have convinced COGAT that they work for an international media outlet. The procedure does not mention journalists who work for Palestinian media, tourists whose destination is the West Bank, friends of Palestinian residents, visiting artists or political delegations. It is unclear whether this is an oversight, or if Israel intends not to allow their entry.

People eligible for long term visas, as mentioned by the procedure, are lecturers and students, employees of international organizations, businesspeople, investors and unpaid volunteers for Palestinian organizations that Israel has determined are eligible to bring in volunteers.

Only authorized personnel at COGAT may decide which fields of activity are “essential” and what the economic criteria are that justify an applicant’s entry to the West Bank. Receipt of a visa does not guarantee entry, which is dependent on questioning at the point of entry. The requirement to stay overseas for up to a year between periods of residency in the West Bank is a new restriction, and it will harm the economic activities of businesspeople and the work of organizations that rely on volunteers.

Another group that can apply for permits is spouses of Palestinians who intend to request Palestinian residency in the West Bank. They must first request a three-month permit while overseas. When they are in the West Bank, they will be required to submit an application for permanent residency to the Palestinian Authority – but it is only Israel that determines who, when and how many may become Palestinian residents. If they have failed to do so, they will be required to leave and will not be allowed to return to their families and homes in the West Bank for six months. This contrasts with the previous procedure, which enabled very short periods abroad between visa renewals.

The procedure states that upon submitting an application for residency status, the residency visa will be extended if the application is refused for political, rather than personal, reasons – that is, an Israeli political decision not to add residents to the Palestinian population register. Compared to the previous policy, which was unclear on the issue, this one includes a positive change for spouses of Palestinians, as it allows them to work in the West Bank.

On the other hand, the new procedure enables officers in the civil administration and COGAT to require high financial guarantees from people wishing to enter the West Bank. The higher the rank of the officer, the higher the sum of the guarantee that can be requested. This can climb to more than 70,000 shekels ($21,180). Financial guarantees were not mentioned in previous procedures, but over the years, more and more partners of Palestinians were required to put down deposits before entering the West Bank. The new procedure allows entry to the West Bank only through the al-Karameh (Allenby Bridge) border crossing with Jordan. The former procedure allowed entry through Ben-Gurion International Airport as well, though for several years the Interior Ministry forbade visitors to the West Bank to use it. The trip through Jordan is longer and more expensive.

The new procedure was included in the state’s response to a petition filed via attorneys Yotam Ben Hillel and Liora Bechor in 2019 against tightened policies and restrictions. The State Attorney’s Office reported that the new procedure was in the process of being translated into English, but they did not address the issue of its publication in Arabic. Ben Hillel told Haaretz that the procedure shows “just how far Israel refuses to let go of the desire to control every component of the lives of Palestinians and their families.”