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Israel’s ‘new’ Procedures Change little at the Borders

Tens of thousands of families still face forced separation or de facto deportation

Ramallah – 29 March, 2007

Israel’s various announcements regarding new procedures for entry and visa extensions have failed to address, even superficially, the humanitarian crisis caused by its arbitrary, discriminatory and abusive exercise of authority over entry into the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Three months since the announcement of new procedures, Palestinians and others of US, Canadian, European and other citizenships continue to be denied entry to the oPt. Several are rejected promised visa extensions. All without justification.

If, as Israeli authorities now claim, the issue has been addressed:

– Why is it that US citizen Amjad Ghassan A’abed and her 2-year-old baby girl from al-Bireh were denied entry at Allenby Bridge 7 times since January 2007, despite the fact that Amjad’s husband and their 3 older children hold Palestinian ID cards?
– Why is it that US citizen and businessman Abdelhakeem Itayem — who after being denied entry for months was finally given security clearance and subsequently entered, exited and re-entered the country several times since January 2007 — was again denied entry on March 13?
– Why is it that 84-year-old Emily Giacaman from Bethlehem, US citizen and an ex-Palestinian ID holder, a widow, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of Palestinian ID holders, was recently denied a visa extension although she had entered the country legally?
– Why is it that on March 7, 67-year-old Fawzi Hamed from Turmos Aya, a US citizen, was detained overnight in a cell at Ben Gurion airport and sent back to the US on the following day? Mr. Hamed had been staying temporarily with his daughter in California since he was first denied entry last November. The Israeli border control officers explained why: “you are coming back to live with your family and hence you are not eligible for a tourist visa.”

Thus far, the only tangible change on the ground since Israeli announcements of new procedures has been the processing of few hundred limited visa extensions. While the Campaign welcomes the short-term relief visa extensions offer to individuals and families threatened with forced separation, these renewals provide for temporary admissions only; procedures for granting residency to foreign nationals whose center of life is in the oPt remain unaddressed. Israel’s continued refusal to process family reunification applications directly affects as many as 500,000 to 750,000 people who may be forced to leave the occupied Palestinian territory to keep their families intact. Together with the many foreign nationals who have established their primary business, investment or professional activities in the oPt, or otherwise aspire to build their lives in the oPt, the new procedures place them, at best, in a state of continuous uncertainty under constant threat of expulsion and exclusion. Moreover, as demonstrated by cases above, even those qualifying for limited duration visa extensions have faced refusals.

Amnesty International states in its report Right to Family Life Denied of March 21 that “the policy of not allowing family unification for foreign spouses has no discernible link to security. The Israeli authorities have not claimed that foreign spouses who are now prevented from returning to the oPt are a security risk to Israelis. The restrictions do not target individuals but apply to spouses of Palestinians in general and, therefore, are wholly discriminatory. As such, they may constitute a form of collective punishment against Palestinians in the oPt; the imposition of collective punishment is violation of international humanitarian law.”

As the Palestinian Campaign for the Right to Enter (RTE) feared, any hopes that Israel would base its exercise of control over oPt borders on legitimate security considerations, in accordance with international law, have failed to materialize. Israel continues to decide politically who may enter the oPt, for what purposes and for how long. Its arbitrary and abusive exercise of this discretion continues to cause serious and unjustifiable harm to countless Palestinian families, educational and social service institutions and businesses in the oPt.

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