Palestinians barred - but don’t blame Israel

When two Palestinian academics failed to reach a ground-breaking conference in London on the psychological effects of the Middle East conflict, Israel — for once — was not to blame.

Furious organisers of the conference at Birkbeck College, Sites of Conflict: Psycho-political Resistance in Palestine-Israel, held British consular officials in Jerusalem and Amman responsible for delays spanning six weeks which left the two unable to travel.

A third academic secured his visa on the eve of the conference, held last Thursday and Friday and attended by 120 academics from Britain, Europe, Israel and Palestine.

Organiser Lynne Segal said: “I wrote three letters on behalf of Dr Samah Jabr, who applied for her visa about six weeks before the conference. British officials kept asking who was paying for their flights and accommodation. But they would not give us an answer about why they wouldn’t issue a visa.”

Rateb abu Rahmeh, who teaches in the Department of Social Work at Al Quds Open University, travelled to Amman to try to speed up the process but to no avail, said Ms Segal. “Another colleague, Basam abu-Omar, gave up trying to get a visa when he saw what happened to the other two,” she said.

“We just could not understand what was going on. It was very distressing and spoiled some of the panels. Other Palestinians travel here without any problems at all yet these officials seem to have put up all sorts of obstacles.”

Barbara Woodward, UK Borders Agency’s international director, said: “We are looking in to the cases raised by the JC. The UK Border Agency’s aim is to facilitate legitimate trade and travel — while preventing entry to the UK from those who do not meet our entry criteria.

“We support cultural and political exchanges and every year work closely with organisers of events in the UK to help ensure that international participants are clear about the UK’s visa application process.”

    Last updated: 5:04pm, October 22 2009