The Israeli military government has imposed severe new restrictions on the four Arab universities in the occupied West Bank, tightening control of faculty appointments and of student admission.
Gabi Baramki, acting president of Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah, today called the measures "the most serious action by Israeli authorities against academic freedom" since the Israeli Army occupied the West Bank in 1967.
"Until now, they have only interfered with our operations," Baramki, a director of the West Bank's Council on Higher Education, said in an interview. "With the new amendments [to a 1964 Jordanian education law that is still in effect], they are responsible for our operations," he added.
Baramki and officials of Najah University in Nablus, Bethlehem University and the Islamic Studies Institute of Hebron were summoned to the military governor's office yesterday and handed notices saying that the restrictions took effect July 8.
The military orders, which affect 4,000 Arab students in the West Bank, place the universities in the same category as secondary schools, which traditionally have been subject to tighter control of curriculum and textbooks. tPreviously, Arab universities operated under no formal code, although they were subject to regulation at the military governor's discretion.
The amendments require military government approval of all appointments to the universities faculties, and provide for the disqualification of professors who have been detained and questioned by security authorities, Baramki and other university officials said. The professors need not have been charged with an offense to be penalized.
Until now, Israeli authorities maintained some control over the appointment of foreigners by issuing residence and work visas. In practice, however, they have allowed visiting professors to teach under ordinary tourist visas until they obtained employment permits. Also, previous policy had been to disqualify teachers on the basis of a criminal conviction not on a record of merely having been questioned.
Moreover, Arab students from the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to enroll in the universities without written permission from the military government, since they will be considered "foreign students. About 100 of the 1,400 students at Bir Zeit are Gazans.
The universities are to be issued temporary operating permits, with the understanding that the permits can be withdrawn at the military governor's discretion.
The government also will tighten control over textbook selection and, because the universities will be categorized together with secondary schools, they will be subject to lists of banned reading material.
Army Capt. Ishai Cohen, spokesman for the military government said, "Everywhere else in the world there are laws for high schools and universities. We decided the Arab universities must stand up to the criteria as universities elsewhere."
Cohen said that professors and students with "not bad" records would be admitted to the universities and that the government did not intend to control the curriculum unreasonably.
But the union of teachers and employes of West Bank universities declared in a statement today: "In this way, academic choices are transferred from professors and are placed in the hands of a froeign army. . . . In contrast, needless to say, both in Jordan and in Israel, universities are academically independent of the Ministry of Education, let alone the Army."
Mohammed Sawalha, a Najah University professor, said the biggest fear of the academicians was that the occupation authorities would call in for questioning professors who are regarded as too nationalistic, and then use the interrogation as an excuse to deny permission to teach.
Sari Nusseibeh, a Bir Zeit philosophy professor, said his school teaches a course on the Palestinian problem. "Naturally, we teach it from the Palestianian point of view," he said. "But the Israelis can now remove that course from the curriculum."
The Israelis have long regarded Bir Zeit, more than the other three universities, as a center of extreme Palestinian nationalism and have repeatedly closed it because of student demonstrations.
In 1978, eight foreign professors, mostly Americans, had their work permits lifted because they were suspected of inciting nationalism. After an outpouring of protest from U.S. campuses, the government backed down and renewed the permits.