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What Does it Take for a Palestinian to Get a US Visa?

by Shlomo Bloom, Sunday 8th October

In order to educate Americans about the situation in Palestine, two Palestinian activists are going on a speaking tour of the United States. ‘M’, one of the organizers behind a successful campaign of non-violent resistance in the West Bank is going to be one of the speakers. ‘F’, from Tel Rumeida was asked to be the other speaker.

In order for a Palestinian to visit the US, they must acquire a visa. Visas can be obtained by making an appointment at the US Consulate in Jerusalem. The problem becomes apparent when you realize that a resident of the West Bank is not allowed to enter Jerusalem because Jerusalem was annexed by Israel (and hence they consider the whole city to be part of Israel, even though international law recognises East Jerusalem to be occupied territory) and is also on the other side of the apartheid wall which has been built to keep all Palestinians out. I have seen many people turned back while trying to cross through checkpoints trying to get into Jerusalem with their appointment slip from the US Consulate. An appointment for a visa is not a good enough reason for any Palestinian to enter into Israel or Jerusalem. There is no US Consulate in any city in Palestine because Palestinians have no nation state.

I spoke with an activist, ‘Lucretia’, who helped both ‘M’ and ‘F’ set up their appointments at the US Consulate. She told me how they then had to figure out a way to get into Jerusalem. She and M were able to successfully sneak in through a somewhat dodgy route involving some running, jumping, crawling and avoiding soldiers. But there was no way they could bring ‘F’ in this way because she is 60 years old.

‘F’ tried to enter 3 times.

The first time, she applied for permission from the army District Command Office (DCO, the civil administration wing of the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories). They refused to give it to her, but she decided to try to go in through a checkpoint with the appointment paper from the Consulate anyway. She was turned back.

The second time, ‘F’ and Lucretia got very specific instructions on how to sneak in and the two of them went together. Once they got to the crossing, they were informed by a taxi driver that soldiers had closed this way. They had to turn back.

The third time they had to enlist the help of some more white people. Two very nice friends offered to help with the whole racial-profiling problem and drive them through a checkpoint in a car with Israeli plates. There’s this cute little fashion accessory the extreme right wing in Israel use to show off their political beliefs. They wear orange ribbons either on their clothes or attached to the antennae of their car. The orange symbolizes people who are against the Israeli “disengagement” from the West Bank and Gaza. So Lucretia got a ribbon and tied it to the antennae of the car. With a total of three white people in the car, Israeli plates, and the color orange identifying them as right-wing nutcases, they zoomed through the Az Zayyem checkpoint without so much as a second glance from the soldiers.

I asked Lucretia how she felt about having the information in this story published on the internet and she replied, “If Lee Kaplan or any of his ilk are reading this and feel it necessary to forward this story onto the Israeli intelligence, please don’t hesitate. If as a result, all cars with orange ribbons were suddenly stopped and all passengers in these cars were forced to have their IDs checked just like Palestinians, I would die happy knowing I contributed to the army treating settlers and Palestinians in the same way.”

I called the US Consulate and asked them what their official position was on this, the conversation went like this:

Me: If a Palestinian who lives in the West Bank wants to get a visa to the US, how do they do that ?

US Consulate: We have a lot of people coming through the checkpoints everyday.

Me: But they cannot go through the checkpoints if they do not have an Israeli ID, a friend of mine tried and she was turned back.

US Consulate: There is nothing we can do for them, they need to try to get a permit.

Me: It sounds like the only way that Palestinians can get in is to sneak in illegally.

US Consulate: Exactly.

Me: Do you have any comments on the ridiculousness of this situation?

US Consulate: I cannot make any comments about this.