On behalf of our 8000 members worldwide, the American Anthropological Association calls upon the Israeli government to rescind its February 2022 military order that threatens the autonomy of Palestinian higher education and Palestinians’ rights to education.
The order, issued by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), declared that it will only allow Palestinian institutions of higher education to employ those requiring visas to enter Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories with Israeli government approval. This will be enormously disruptive to Palestinian colleges and universities, institutions that already face harassment and disruption from Israeli policies in multiple ways. It will also endanger individual scholars and families who have built their lives in the occupied territories, many of whom are Palestinians themselves.
The AAA has committed to taking action on issues of academic freedom in Israel-Palestine in particular, as specified on page 76 of the 2015 Task Force Report, stating “As a professional society dedicated to the production and circulation of knowledge, AAA should be concerned to protect academic freedom.” The report also confirms a commitment to human rights and to “advocate on behalf of minorities, disadvantaged groups, and indigenous groups.”
The AAA issued a statement of censure in 2016 of Israeli government practices that have restricted Palestinian higher education. The intensified set of Israeli restrictions, issued in an order entitled “Procedure for Entry and Residency of Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Region,” declares that internationals will be given visas to work at Palestinian institutions of higher education only if Israel deems their fields to be essential and only if Israel deems them to be accomplished and have a PhD. This takes away the right of Palestinian universities to determine who is in their faculty.
According to Haaretz reporting, “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.” The total number of lecturers will also be limited to a quota determined by Israel, currently set at 100. The procedures also limit the total number of years that those with foreign status can teach in Palestinian institutions to a total of five non-consecutive years. Crucially, many of the impacted lecturers with foreign status are Palestinians who do not have long-term residency rights because of Israel’s discriminatory laws.
The order impacts the abilities of colleges and universities to determine who their student body is as well, declaring that only 150 foreign students will be permitted to study at Palestinian institutions per year.
A Call to Action from Birzeit University demands solidarity grounded in principles of international law, including the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966).
The AAA endorses the Birzeit University call to action. Colleges and universities have a fundamental right to determine their faculty and their curriculum. Higher education institutions are at the center of any society’s efforts to develop critical thought, develop new knowledge grounded in research, and develop skills that are needed for the future. Colleges and universities are also crucial sites of intercultural experience and learning. The ability to invite a global faculty and student body to take part in Palestinian institutions of higher education is integral to a learning mission. The AAA calls on Israel to reverse this attack on Palestinian higher education.
We acknowledge and thank the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association for proposing and subsequently drafting this statement.