Israel has decided to ease some of the restrictions it was threatening to impose on the Palestinian universities in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli official said today.
In meetings yesterday and today with officials of Bethlehem, Bir Zeit and Najah universities, the official said, Israeli authorities agreed to a change in wording in a statement that foreign nationals who teach at the schools are being required to sign before they obtain new work permits.
Under the original statement teachers must pledge not to offer any assistance--direct or indirect--to the Palestine Liberation Organization or other "terrorist organizations." The teachers strongly opposed it, charging it was an infringement on academic freedom.
Achiya Yitzhaki, a spokesman for the civil administration of the occupied territories, said Israeli authorities have agreed to delete the reference to "indirect support" for the PLO and terrorist organizations and replace it with the words "hostile organizations."
Albert Aghazarian, a spokesman for Bir Zeit in Ramallah, where more than 60 foreign teachers were threatened with deportation for refusing to sign the pledge, said the teachers were waiting to receive a full text of the revised statement before deciding whether to sign it. He said university officials hoped the new language would be acceptable.
Students from Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, who do not have West Bank identity cards, are also being required to sign the anti-PLO pledge to enroll in classes. Those who have refused have been turned back at roadblocks set up around Bethlehem University, the only one of the three schools to open so far for the academic year.
During the same meetings, Israeli officials announced a one-year freeze on the enforcement of a strict military order governing the West Bank universities and said they no longer would erect roadblocks near the schools to check the identity cards of students.
The military order was issued in 1980 and would place the universities under tighter restrictions than before, including a requirement that they obtain annual operating permits. The order never has been enforced, but this summer the civil administration announced that it would go into effect with the new academic year.
The university officials were informed of these decisions during meetings with Gen. Yigal Karmon, who has temporarily replaced Menachem Milson as head of the civil administration on the West Bank. Milson resigned his post to protest the Beirut massacre of Palestinian refugees.
It was not clear what prompted the change in policy. Yitzhaki said it was an attempt to generate "good will" and avoid clashes at the universities, which are centers of Palestinian nationalism.
He said, however, that foreign teachers who continue to refuse to sign the revised anti-PLO pledge will still face deportation when their current work permits expire. Thirteen foreign teachers at Najah university in Nablus, scheduled to open Saturday along with Bir Zeit, have already been deported.