Critics claim Israeli government attempting to block people from entering the Palestinian territories
Foreign nationals who have obtained a visa to visit Israel and the West Bank are having trouble renewing their permit for both locations because of new guidelines implemented without notice by the Israeli Ministry of Interior.
“When they [foreigners] first come to the West Bank, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT] is responsible for issuing visas,” a senior source within the Israeli government told The Media Line under condition of anonymity, adding that COGAT generally issues three-month visas for those wanting to enter both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“To renew the visa,” the source elaborated, “individuals [who are already in Israel] have to apply through the Ministry of Interior, which decides on the type and the length of the [extended permit].” By contrast, foreigners in the West Bank “must contact a population registry representative in Ramallah who may issue a new visa for up to one year.”
In both cases, individuals must provide documentation outlining the purpose of their visit.
After being contacted by The Media Line, the Israeli Ministry of Interior could not provide a statement on the matter within forty-eight hours.
Sam, 26, a Palestinian-American who asked that his last name not be disclosed, told The Media Line that when he recently tried to renew his permit he was surprised to discover that it only allows him to travel to the West Bank. “The norm for me was to receive one visa for Israel and Palestine. Now, I have to send a letter to Beit El [an Israeli local council located in the Binyamin Region of the West Bank] to explain why I need to enter Israel,” he stressed.
“A couple of days ago, one of my family members applied to enter Israel and was approved, so it shouldn’t be a problem.” Nevertheless, he qualified, the new procedure is a significant burden and the associated restrictions should have been made clear in advance of his application.
Critics of the new visa procedures claim they violate international law as well as the 1995 Oslo II Accords, which stipulated that foreigners be granted unhindered freedom of movement between Israel and the West Bank. Furthermore, they insist, the new directives are motivated by Israel’s desire to strictly regulate visitors to the country and especially those who want to travel to the West Bank.
Waleed Wahdan, a media advisor at the Palestinian District Coordination Office, which submits applications to the Israeli Ministry of Interior on behalf of foreigners, accused Israel of using various methods to deny visas to individuals. “Sometimes they use stupid excuses while other times they delay the process indefinitely until the applicants lose their status and are then deported,” he told The Media Line. “Israeli officials don’t care about the Palestinians; they don’t want us to bring experts from abroad and they don’t want the internationals to become pro-Palestine.”
Rachael, 25, is an American citizen who came to the West Bank as a visitor and then met her current husband, Mohammed. “I married my Palestinian boyfriend; one of the reasons is to stay in Palestine,” she related to The Media Line.
After Rachel recently returned to the West Bank from a trip to Cyprus, GOGAT gave her a six-day visa for Israel and asked her to leave before it expired. “I don’t really need Israel that much, but it’s annoying as I have to travel from Jordan,” she stressed, while noting that in the past she used to receive a six-month visa for both Israel and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, the current visa does not allow her to work in Israel.
“Now Israel treats me as a Palestinian and the visa I have allows me to stay only in the West Bank. I don’t understand, though, because I got married to a Palestinian I became a threat?”
In the past, internationals who came to work for well-known organizations easily received visas which could then be renewed based on the length of their projects.
A USAID employee who asked to remain totally anonymous, revealed to The Media Line that she has been working in the West Bank and has twice received a one-year visa to enter both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“I have never faced any problems or complications in receiving a visa especially since my work usually takes care of it,” the individual said. But when she recently traveled from Ben-Gurion Airport abroad, Israeli security officials had more than the usual round of questions for her and double-checked her bags.