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Foreign Nationals still denied entry to West Bank by Israel

by Mohammed Mar’i, January 16th

Although Lana K. is an American national, and a mother of 2 children, she was denied entry on January 3rd and again on January 9th by the Israeli Occupation Forces ([IOF). Lana is married to a Palestinian and has been living with her family in Nablus for 10 years and used to renew her visa periodically. When Lana was first forced to return to Jordan, her children, carrying their Israeli-issued Palestinian residency IDs, were refused re-entry into Jordan. The children were permitted transit via the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge and their father arrived from Nablus to take them back to Nablus. Despite the new Israeli entry procedures announced nearly 2 weeks ago, Lana’s attempts to join her family in the West Bank failed.

In a letter delivered to chief Palestinian negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erakat on December 28, 2006, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (CoGAT), Major General Yossef Mishlav states changes in Israel’s policy of denying entry to foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank. The letter states that foreign nationals from countries that have “visa agreements with Israel” may enter the West Bank but “they are required to keep the military commander’s consent form with his or her passport.” The letter further explains that a restricted number of foreign nationals will be ‘eligible’ to apply for temporary entry into the West Bank as well as periodic visa renewals.

Fadah Ihlal Thum is another case of suffering due to the Israeli policy. She came to live in the West Bank in 2001. She is married to a local Palestinian and has a five-month-old baby. Fadah is studying at Bir Zeit University and is one of Bir Zeit’s best students. She is in her final year and has twice received Bir Zeit’s rare and prestigious ‘honor’ award. She has a bright future ahead of her if she is able to complete her degree in French and English, particularly as she already fluently speaks Arabic and Portuguese.

Fadah had been renewing her visa internally as is permitted to some residents until her last renewal in September 2006 when, along with hundreds of others, she was suddenly given a ‘last permit’ stamp on her visa and was forced to leave her home, husband and baby in December. She went to Jordan for four days with her husband and baby. When she returned, the (IOF) allowed her husband and baby to enter while she was ordered to return to Jordan. “When my husband took the baby who was sick at the moment, and put my luggage in the returning bus I burst into tears” Fadah said. “They allowed me to enter just for seven days, and know I have to leave in order to renew my visa” she added. Fadah fears that once she leaves, Israel won’t allow her re-entry.

The West Bank’s Bir Zeit University also suffered from the Israeli policy. The Bir Zeit University Right to Education Campaign in a press release on 6 January 2007 said that the Israeli ” policy has brought tremendous insecurity to Bir Zeit University and its financial and academic well being.”

In addition to two of Bir Zeit’s faculty staff, Somida Abbas and Bahgat Taiam who are already outside and have ‘denied entry’ stamped in their passports, the University fears the risk of being unable to continue teaching in some fields by losing irreplaceable lecturers or about 383 students who fear deportation or prison sentences if they are caught at checkpoints.

The Arabic language and culture program is particularly at risk as it is entirely self-sufficient and dependent on their foreign students’ access to the University. In the last term alone, four students were not allowed to complete their studies as they were not allowed to enter or re-enter the OPT. The program is also a major source of emergency funds for the university, which has recently come into use to cover staff salaries since the economic blockade after the 2006 elections. Since Israel’s restrictions on access to Palestinian education, applications for the next term’s course fell by 50 percent – taking with it 50 percent of the program’s income.

The Campaign for Right to Entry/Re-entry, based in Ramallah, regarded the new Israeli policy in a press conference in Ramallah “as a rare moment where the Israeli Authorities acknowledge in writing the severe humanitarian crisis brought on by Israeli policies of denying foreign nationals the right to family reunification and entry to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)”. But it considered that Mishlav’s letter “leaves many questions unanswered and the crisis unresolved.

The Campaign said that “several foreign nationals with family in the oPt have been denied entry under circumstances that indicate,the implementation of the newly announced procedures remains arbitrary, abusive and internationally unlawful”, and that the “procedures for granting residency to foreign nationals whose life and livelihood is in the oPt remain unanswered” it added.

The Campaign also considered that the “CoGAT’s” letter to Erekat “does not offer a solution to the thousands of individuals who have remained in the oPt after the expiry of their permits, fearing they would be denied re-entry. The notice also fails to indicate if foreign nationals seeking entry into occupied East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip will be eligible to apply for temporary admission or visa extensions”.

Israel is refusing to consider over 120,000 applications for family unification, forcing many families to relocate abroad. Together with many foreign nationals who have established their primary business or professional activities in the West Bank, or otherwise aspire to build their lives in the West Bank, these new procedures place them in a state of continuous uncertainty under constant threat of expulsion and exclusion.

Whereas the new Israeli policy regarding entry to foreign nationals traveling into the West Bank, applies to nationals from countries ‘friendly’ to Israel, the Israeli policy towards nationals from enemy-classified countries or those that do not have ” visa agreements with Israel”, which includes tens of thousands of foreigners, including 60,000 Jordanian-born women, as well as women from other Arab countries, Russia and the Ukraine, is vague. Israel used to grant them six -months permits. However, Israel stopped granting them family unification approvals after the outbreak of the second intifada.

Faruoq, from the Salfeet area, has been engaged to a Palestinian relative residing in Jordan and bears its nationality. Since his fiancée doesn’t have a Palestinian ID, and wasn’t granted a visiting permit, Farhat postponed his wedding several times. He filed an application for unification with his fiancée but was denied by Israel several times.” I have been engaged for a long time”, he said. “If the situation doesn’t change and my fiancée doesn’t get a permit perhaps we will have to get divorced”, he added.

* (Mohammed Mar’i is a freelance Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine. He can be reached at mmaree63@gmail.com.)