The Israeli crackdown on the universities in the occupied West Bank was stepped up today with the deportation of two teachers, including an American, from Bir Zeit University near Ramallah.
The two teachers, the first to be expelled from Bir Zeit, joined 20 other teachers from Najah and Bethlehem universities who have been deported for refusing to sign a pledge to offer no assistance to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Bir Zeit officials identified the two as Fairuz Shehadeh, an American citizen of Palestinian origin, and Mohammed Rashiq, a Palestinian who holds a Jordanian passport. In addition, they said that 31 foreign teachers at Bir Zeit, including 19 Americans, have been ordered to stop teaching and told they will be deported when their current tourist visas expire.
The Israeli authorities have made signing of the anti-PLO pledge a condition for all foreign teachers at the three universities to obtain work permits for the current academic year.
Bir Zeit is generally considered the most nationalist of the three schools and there were reports of minor disturbances in Ramallah today in connection with the expulsions.
Shehadeh is the first American to be deported under the new rule, imposed by Israeli occupation authorities in September. An official at the U.S. Consulate here said American officials have raised the issue with the Israelis both here and in Washington, but added, "I don't think we've gotten any forward motion on it."
Israeli authorities have said the new requirement is to make certain that foreign teachers in the West Bank know that assistance to the PLO in any form is illegal. They also have contended that the pledge is similar to what is required of foreign nationals who teach in the United States, but this is disputed by U.S. Embassy officials in Tel Aviv.
University officials have charged that the pledge is a political infringement on academic freedom and part of a system of "harassment" of Palestinian higher education that is aimed at closing the universities or reducing them to the level of secondary schools.
More than 100 foreign teachers in the West Bank are affected by the new regulation, including about a quarter of Bir Zeit's 200-member faculty. At a news conference here today, Gabi Baramki, acting president of Bir Zeit, said the loss of all foreign teachers would be an "extremely grave" development for the school's 2,000 students.
"Bir Zeit faces a situation in which its students will be left without teachers, their course of study incomplete," he said. "And since all of the faculty involved teach university or departmental requirements, this situation will delay the graduation of not only this year's senior class but of those of many years to come."
"Unless this political commitment is withdrawn," he added, "the education of this and coming generations of Palestinian students stands in grievous jeopardy."
Baramki, however, pledged that the university will remain open even if it loses all of its foreign faculty members.
Peter Heath, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard universities, said that he was among 13 Bir Zeit faculty members, including seven other Americans, who were summoned last Thursday to Israeli military headquarters in Ramallah and ordered to sign the pledge. When they refused, he said, they were told to stop teaching immediately and that they were due for deportation. Six other Bir Zeit teachers were summoned to the military headquarters today to receive the same order, university officials said.
Heath said that he and his colleagues believe that if they signed the anti-PLO pledge the Israeli authorities would impose new requirements on foreign teachers.
"There's no end once one starts signing," he said.