By DAN IZENBERG
Despite strong objections from the Committee of University Heads, individual academics and the human rights organization Gisha, the High Court of Justice on Monday accepted the army’s non-security related criteria for granting Palestinian post-graduate students permits to enter Israel to study at Israeli universities.
The court added, however, that whenever the army rejects a Palestinian student’s entry request on the grounds that he has not met its criteria, the Palestinian student may petition the High Court against the decision.
“We are being forcibly prevented from accepting students who can make a decidedly valuable contribution to higher education in Israel,” Hebrew University Law Prof. Alon Harel said, following the court ruling.
“I call upon the court and the defense establishment to respect academic freedom. The decision whether or not to accept a student must be the exclusive decision of the university, while the military should be limited to performing a security check.”
Six of the seven universities, including top officials from the Technion, the Hebrew University, the Feinberg Seminary of the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University also protested the army’s criteria for granting permits.
In a letter sent to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on May 12, the universities charged that the criteria for considering granting entry permits to Palestinian students accepted by Israeli universities “constitutes a gross and harmful intervention by military elements in purely academic considerations.”
Only Bar-Ilan University did not sign the letter, though its seal appeared on the letterhead together with the other six universities.
Monday’s ruling brought to an end a petition filed by Gisha in October 2006 on behalf of Sawsan Salameh, a chemistry student from the West Bank village of Anata who was accepted as a doctoral student by the Hebrew University.
At the time, in the wake of the second intifada, the army had imposed a blanket refusal on requests by Palestinian students from the territories to enter Israel.
Gisha petitioned on Salameh’s behalf and at the same time, asked the court to put an end to the sweeping prohibition and investigate students wishing to enter Israel to study on an individual basis.
Eventually the army relented with regard to Salameh; she has been studying for her doctorate at Hebrew University for more than two years.
At the urging of the court, the army also presented criteria for investigating applications from other Palestinians who had been accepted for studies in Israel as an exception to its overall policy not to consider entry requests except for humanitarian reasons.
The criteria included the following:
“¢ Only PhD and Masters students will be considered and only if there is no practical alternative to studying in Israel
“¢ Preference will be given to applicants to programs focusing on regional cooperation or developing coexistence and regional peace. The Education Ministry must testify as to the nature of the program
“¢ Palestinians will not be allowed to study professions that have the potential to be used against Israel.
“¢ The applicant will have to provide the army with a detailed request from a recognized academic institution explaining the grounds on which the institution wants him to study there
“¢ There will be no further examination if the applicant has a security or criminal record.
“¢ The army will take into account the age of the applicant and his personal status.
“¢ The army, at its own discretion, may refuse to consider an applicant even if the student meets the above criteria.
Although Salameh’s problem was solved on December 18, 2006, when she was granted permission to study for her doctorate for as long as it took, she nevertheless attended Monday’s hearing.
“This is still my case,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
She added that the military permit she received prevents her from going beyond Jerusalem or staying over in Jerusalem; she must be out of the city by 7 p.m. each day.
This means that she cannot attend any lecture that ends later than 5:30, since it takes her one-and-a-half hours to get to her home, which is located north of the city, from the Hadassah-University Medical Center at Ein Kerem, where she is doing the research for her doctorate.