Could you finish a Ph.D. in six months?

Sawsan Salameh has been dreaming of getting a doctorate since the age of sixteen. Now 29, her dream has been placed on hold because none of the universities in her native Palestine offers a Ph.D. program in theoretical chemistry, her chosen subject. Studying abroad wasn’t an option, for she comes from a traditional Muslim family and believes traveling abroad alone is improper. Making matters worse, her father recently passed away, leaving Sawsan to provide for her mother and younger sister.

Suddenly, luck changed for Sawsan. She applied to Hebrew University in East Jerusalem, just a short drive from her home in the West Bank, and not only did she gain acceptance, she received a full scholarship. She hopes to use her future degree to launch a career as a chemistry professor.

Only one obstacle remains: the Israeli checkpoint at the East Jerusalem border. Protected by barbed wire and machine guns, it blocks Sawsan from even setting foot on the university’s campus. Obtaining a permit for entry is possible—fourteen Palestinian students are currently enrolled in Israeli universities—but Sawsan’s application was denied eight times. (The government of Israel has become much tighter with permits since the Hamas takeover of Palestine in March.)

With help from the human rights group Gisha, Sawsan appealed to Israel’s High Court of Justice. After a month of delays and hearings, Sawsan’s dream was finally about to come true! The court overruled the government and approved a permit that would allow her to attend school in Israel…for six months.

Sawsan Salameh

Sawsan Salameh
Photograph © BBC News

The idea that anyone could complete a doctoral degree in six months is ludicrous. To put this in perspective, consider that in the United States, earning a Ph.D. in the sciences requires about seven years of post-Bachelor’s study. Sawsan’s six-month permit, which the High Court apparently considers a gift, is as good as none.

The Israeli authorities haven’t commented publicly on this case, so one can only imagine what they were thinking.

4 Responses to “Could you finish a Ph.D. in six months?”

  1. gd says:

    They think she could be a terrorist… A way to put security and human rights together might be a *renewable* six months permission…

  2. Trevor says:

    No, if they think she might be a terrorist, then they wouldn’t be giving her a permit at all, not even for one day. So a six month permit still doesn’t make sense, renewable or not.

  3. gd says:

    Oh, I wish they grant her a lifetime permit and open the borders to everyone, but I like thinking as I had the responsability to choose or propose a policy. A lifetime, unconditional permit from Israeli authorities to a generic Palestinian student doesn’t seems realistic in these years, just as finishing a Ph.D. in six months. Mine was a sort of proposal to let Sawsan take her degree.

  4. Trevor says:

    I’m not suggesting they give her a lifetime unconditional permit. I’m only saying that a six month permit, renewable or not, is unreasonable. In the US, for example, Ph.D. students from Iran (a country that the US claims is a sponsor of terrorism) get five year visas! Yes, they have to undergo a more thorough background check than students from other countries, but still, it’s five years, not six months. I don’t see why Israel can’t take the same approach.

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