MERRIMAN: Refusal of entry into the West Bank September 19, 2009

from Professor Rima Merriman  -  17 September 2009

Denied entry copy

Dear Consul General Daniel Rubenstein and Special Envoy George John Mitchell:

After greetings.

My name is Rima Merriman, American citizen (passport number xxxxxxxx). I have been employed by the Arab American University – Jenin (AAUJ) in the occupied West Bank as an Assistant Professor of American literature for the past two and the half years.

This is to let you know that I have been denied entry into the West Bank at Allenby today on the basis that I have been working in Israel illegally on a tourist visa stamped “not permitted to work”.   Please bear with me as I explain the catch 22 nature of this bizarre situation.

At no time had I lied about the reason for my entries into the West Bank each academic year.  The various three-month tourist visas in my passport have been issued by officials at Allenby with full knowledge of my employment by AAUJ.  The tourist visa was then extended by Beit Eel (for me and for other international employees at AAUJ and other Palestinian universities) through the PA Ministry of Interior and Beit Eel. In order to extend our tourist visas, Beit Eel routinely requested work contracts to verify our employment at a Palestinian institution.  This has been going on for two years now, and, in fact, five of my international colleagues who teach in the English Department at AAUJ have successfully entered the West Bank in the past couple of weeks, having put their faith in the only procedure open to us to enter the West Bank to teach.  The only change, I was told, has been the stamping of the tourist visa with “PA areas only”, thus making it impossible for international academics to travel to Jerusalem or Israel for conferences or any other academic activity or, for that matter, tourist activities.

Because of the dissonance between the sort of visa international academics are given (a tourist visa) and our announced raison d’être for our presence in the West Bank, I tried in the past to investigate, at the behest of AAUJ, a procedure by which international staff would be issued work permits.  I asked officials at COGAT through the Israeli Committee for Residency Rights (http://groups.google.com/group/icrr) to facilitate such permits, but COGAT was told by Beit Eel that work permits were “not possible” at that time.  However, Beit Eel agreed to extend the tourist visas (stamped with “not permitted to work”) of international academics in the occupied West Bank through the PA Ministry of Interior.

That’s the only procedure open to international academics to enter and reside in the Occupied West Bank for the duration of their contracts.  We are given a three-month tourist visa on entry (Ben Gurion or Allenby) and then the PA/Beit Eel extend this tourist visa as needed during the academic year after verifying our employment contracts.

A year or so ago, pressure was being exerted on Israel to stop denying entry to internationals (academics, businessmen, spouses and children of Palestinian nationals, etc.) by the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-entry (http://www.righttoenter.ps/) and by the US Consul General in Jerusalem, as well as by Mrs. Condoleezza Rice.   The US is also interested in making sure that US citizens of Palestinian descent(as I am) are not discriminated against. Things did quiet down a little, but it now appears they are flaring up again.

At Allenby, the situation is confusing because there are various official entities involved in the process.  COGAT has a presence there and it is through them that, as chair of the English Department, I had coordinated entry for international staff in the past two years in accordance with the procedure described above.  I am told that COGAT has new leadership now and is no longer able to enforce the tenuous arrangement Palestinian universities have so far had.  For example, when I was at Allenby today, COGAT was willing to issue me the three-month tourist visa stamped with “not permitted to work” as usual to be renewed by the PA and Beit Eel.  Representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Interior, however, took strong objection to this and insisted that I had been breaking the law for the past two and the half years and should be denied entry.  The Israeli Police was also inflexible and referred me to the Israeli Embassy in Amman , but I know from past experience that the Embassy will say it has nothing to do with issuing work permits.

There is no procedure that Palestinian universities could follow through the PA and the Israeli Ministry of Interior except through Beit Eel, which brings us full circle in a catch 22 situation.  I asked to enter for two weeks in order to try to figure out how to go about getting a work permit internally, but I was denied this request.

What worries me is that I am now blacklisted in the Israeli system as someone who has broken the law, even though I have never outstayed the expiration date of any of the visas that were issued to me.  The fall semester at AAUJ will start in a few days and I am anguished about what will happen to my students and courses, as we are understaffed.  There is also the anxiety that my international colleagues will also be denied re-entry sooner or later and pretty much bring scholarship in the english department at AAUJ to a halt as had happened three years ago.

As an American citizen, I am reporting this incident in the hope that my government will be able to redress this unfair and untenable situation as soon as possible.  I am in Amman now waiting for a resolution and can be reached at the following number:  00962 79 55 28 054 in addition to this e-mail address (also rimamerriman@gmail.com).  I am copying this correspondence to Dr. Adli Saleh, President of AAUJ as well as to a few Department of State officials (NEA/IPA) with whom I have corresponded on this issue in the past.

Sincerely,

Rima
( Amman mobile number: 00962 78 539 2289 or 00962 79 552 8054)

Rima Najjar Merriman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Modern Languages Department
Arab American University – Jenin
+970 4 251 0801/2/3/4/5/6 – ext. 174
Fax: + 970-4-251-0810


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