When the British University and College Union voted to promote a boycott of Israeli universities, critics hit back with a firm defense of academic freedom. Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, found the very idea of the boycott to be �utterly antithetical to fundamental values of the academy.� Such an action, he said, �threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.� Very noble. But how do these statements apply to Palestinians?
On August 11, Amira Hass acquainted readers of the Israeli daily “Ha�aretz” with the predicament faced by Luay Kfafi, a student at Birzeit University in the West Bank who has also taught courses there in mechanical engineering. He was the not-so-lucky winner of a scholarship to study in Germany: the Israeli government, which controls the borders, refuses to allow him to leave. While he has never had any trouble with Israeli authorities, they invoke �security� as the reason for the refusal.
Birzeit�s web site reports that foreign students are refused entry to the country by Israeli border authorities if they are known to be registered in a Palestinian university. Birzeit has also had a foreign faculty member deported. Three others have had visa renewals refused, meaning that they will also have to leave when the visas expire.
Kfafi was refused permission to leave Palestine to study abroad, but other Palestinians are even forbidden to study in Palestine itself. Gazan students wanting to study physiotherapy are not allowed into the West Bank, and there are no academic programs in that field available in Gaza. The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the government�s refusal to allow ten such students from Gaza to enter the West Bank to do their internship.
So, will Bollinger and the other leading academic administrators who have rallied to his banner put a good word in for Kfafi? Better yet, will they issue scholarships for worthy Palestinian students and demand that Israel allow them to attend? Such a move would surely be in accord with �the fundamental values of the academy.�