by Noura Khouri
Typically, entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) through the only possible route available, via Israel, is a nerve- racking, tiresome and extremely invasive affair. If the foreigner in question answers honestly, to the barrage of questions hurled by the Israeli Border Police he or she could be in for a very stressful and unpleasant entry process. Unbearably long delays, grueling interrogations, strip searches and basic humiliation are amongst the best case scenarios, notwithstanding the ever increasing threat of deportation. As a result, one is forced to lie with the coolness of a professional criminal and be prepared to back up their story, corroborated by witnesses, contact names and phone numbers in order to enter the OPT.
Because this policy has gone completley unquestioned, Israel has recently, contrary to international law, launched an actual systematic campaign to get and keep foreign nationals out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By avoiding negotiations with the Palestinians and imposing ongoing unilateral steps, Israel grows ever closer to implementing their agenda, without any resistance by the international community, or the UN.
It is a relatively known fact that many Palestinian-Americans and other foreign nationals would love to be “allowed” to live in the Palestinian territories. Yet, it is forbidden, by Israel, for foreigners to reside in the OPT. So typically the main way for foreigners to stay for an extended period of time is to renew the three month Israeli visitor visa. However, it seems the [Israeli] State is catching on to these practices. Al-Jazeera recently estimated “that at least 13,000 people (non-Jews) have been arbitrarily denied entry to Israel/Palestine.” They have been stopped from entering Israel, en route to Palestine, or re-entering, after leaving the country for their required 3-month visa renewal.
Israel ultimately decides, at whim, who gets in and who does not of the OPT. Those who are denied entry typically are those who have Palestinian background, children and/or that are married to someone with Palestinian ID, human rights activists and NGO employees. To summarize: those who are not a security risk of any kind, but who just happen to disagree with Israel policies in the OPT and act as witnesses, have the highest risk of deportation.
Illegal Discrimination Policies Upon consulting with Israeli lawyers, it seems that at present there is still no official written legislation or policy that backs up this escalating practice. Israel’s long term practice of unilateral measures often avoids issuing public statements, when knowing that these criteria are far from kosher from a legal perspective. The basis in illegality lies in international law, namely the UN Security Council’s Resolution 242, which demands that Israel withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Thus, fundamentally, the Israeli State, has no legal basis in international law to control all of the borders, nor to deny permission for Palestinians to build an airport in Gaza and the West Bank. The principle of non discrimination in article 5 of ICERD obligates “States Parties to the Convention to guarantee to everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of certain civil, political, economic, and social rights.” If it is just for security, those in question have the right to know what the entry criteria are; not least to ensure that those criteria are non-discriminatory and legal. Furthermore, “The principle of non-discrimination is non-derogable; even when war or a state of emergency exists, a state may not engage in acts that amount to racial discrimination.”
The denial of entry by Israel to foreign nationals into Palestinian territory is yet another means by which to deny Palestinian basic rights and sovereignty. Should it not be the Palestinians themselves who decide who they want to allow into their territory or not? Along with U.S. and U.N. acquiescence to settlement expansion, land and water theft, complete control of movement in the OPT, systematic denial of entry seems to be Israel’s way of locking the door and throwing away the prison key, towards achieving their political aim of Palestinian Bantustans, controlled by the State, in lieu of a sovereign viable state. The removal of foreign nationals as human rights observers acting as outside witnesses and as a deterrent to regular Israeli war crimes [helps this ‘system’ work – E.].
Case in point, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) offers a program called TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through ExpatriateNationals) program. The UN’s TOKTEN program aims to reverse patterns of brain drain by encouraging expatriate nationals, who have an expertise in a certain field to live and work in their home country. In the past, TOKTEN employees were provided visas through the UN to work for a Palestinian organization. The program allowed many individuals the mutual benefit of transferring a specific skill-based knowledge and helping rebuild their ancestral country, while living in their homeland. However, in a meeting recently held by the UNDP, [it emerges that] those currently holding a TOKTEN visa are enjoying an interim grace period and are unlikely to be granted future visas, because Israel is no longer granting permission for the UN to do so. This appears as the first visible sign of official policy to further isolate, marginalize, and imprison the Palestinian people from the rest of the world.
This UNDP announcement also prevents foreign nationals who are currently living and working in the West Bank from being allowed to live in there any longer. They are now being required to move to Jerusalem, even though the daily grind of the checkpoints makes it incredibly tiresome and unrealistic to sustain the journey day in and day out, on a long term basis. In addition, they will be required to get weekly permission, by Israel, to be allowed into the West Bank. Those who are “caught” living in the West Bank will be forcibly removed from not only the OPT, but their visa will be revoked and they will be deported within a day’s notice, which has already happened in at least one case.
What are the countries of the nationals in question doing to ensure that the treatment and rights of their citizens are being upheld? Nothing as far as the eye can see. In fact, not only are the US and UN complying with the State’s control over the Palestinian territories, even Sweden has recently issued a statement to the effect that “entry into the territories under the control of the P.A., in the Gaza Strip, Judea, and Samaria (Area A) is forbidden without the attainment of prior written authorization. Entry into the aforementioned territories, without prior authorization, may result in legal measures being taken against you, including deportation and refusal of future re-entry into the State of Israel.” This statute implies that the self-regulated autonomous body called the P.A. can determine who enters their own territory. However, “the submission of a request to authorize entry into the above-mentioned areas does not constitute permission to do so, until written authorization has been received.”
This would misleadingly give one the impression that the PA in fact authorizes the `written authorization’; ironically, this is not the case. To summarize, you must apply for a separate visa to enter `areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority,’ however Israel has the only say in whether or not you will get permission to enter.
Yet, Jews or those who pretend to be Jewish from all over the world are encouraged and somehow have more of a right to not only visit, but live unconditionally as colonialist settlers, over indigenous Palestinian people. For example, according to the Tel Aviv University website, “Israel has visa agreements with 65 countries. Nationals of these countries do not need to obtain an entry permit or visa prior to their arrival in Israel; they automatically receive a B2 Tourist Visa, valid for three months, upon entering the country.” Additionally, the “A4 Student Family Visa” – Faculty and students can apply for this visa for their family members. It is valid for up to a year and must be renewed annually.” However, a visiting Professor at Birzeit University through the UN’s TOKTEN program is not even granted a requested three-month visa to finish out his term this semester because of Israel’s denial to grant the visa.
The Israeli rationale is for our own ‘security,’ of course, the ‘situation on the ground’ in the West Bank between Fateh and Hamas provides a reason for much stiffer entry regulations. Yet, according to International Law, “The principle of non- discrimination is non-derogable; even when war or a state of emergency exists, a state may not engage in acts that amount to racial discrimination:
(4) Accordingly, when a State faces a threat to its security, for example, it may not target members of a particular racial group for less favourable treatment than persons who do not belong to that group. Additionally, is it not the inalienable right of those who for years have been committed to living and working under the not exactly safe conditions of Occupation to make that decision for themselves?
It is a basic principle of international human rights law that human rights treaties apply to all areas over which a state party exercises effective control. It is well known and documented that Israel as an occupying power considers itself above international law. This however does not absolve it from its legal responsibilities. An occupying power has a responsibility to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention and protect the civilian population they are occupying. In the absence of a negotiated solution or handing over control, as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords, Israel has no legal right to deny people entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), especially when entering from the Jordanian border.
As 3.5 million Palestinian people suffer, isolated and starved solely for their choice of a democratically elected government, the wall and settlements encroach, stealing more land and water; while Israel kills Palestinians with impunity. Is it not more critical than ever for Palestinian and international human rights observers to witness and document the situation on the ground? There is something we can do to resist these unjust, discriminatory policies. We can put pressure on our country’s government to exercise fair treatment and can demand action of the United Nations in enforcing Israeli compliance with International standards.
What you can do:
• Start a campaign in your country to contact your congress or
respective governments and demand that they put pressure on Israel and the UN to end the isolation of Palestinians now.
• Visit, or better yet, move to Palestine and get in while you still can.
• Boycott and Divest from Israel!
• Email: [email protected] and let us know if you know of anyone who has been denied entry into Occupied Palestinian Territories.
• Or email the above address if you are interested in being a part of a campaign started by Palestinian human rights workers from Al- Haq and Birzeit University to help stop these illegal practices!