5 July 2011 | Sam Bahour, The Guardian
Palestinians have globally touted an array of rights that Israel systematically denies. There is the right of return, the right of freedom of movement, the right to water, the right to education, the right to enter (not to be confused with refugees’ right to return) and so on.
But the right to receive visitors, or lack thereof? This is the most recent addition. The prohibition on freely receiving foreign visitors is as disturbing as it is shocking, especially for a country that claims to be the only beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
Yes, you read correctly. Israel is threatening to refuse to allow Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory to receive visitors from abroad. We are not talking here about visitors such as the 5 million Palestinian refugees whom Israel has refused to allow to return to their homes after being expelled by force and fear when Israel was founded in 1948. Rather, the issue now is that foreigners who desire to visit the occupied Palestinian territory are being denied entry into Israel.
Remember, there is no other way to get to the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which is under military occupation by Israel, except by passing through Israeli-controlled points of entry such as Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv or one of Israel’s sea ports or land crossings. The entry point to the Gaza Strip from the West Bank requires passage through Israel as well.
So, more than 300 international activists plan to arrive in Tel Aviv during the week of 8 July at the invitation of 30 Palestinian civil society organisations, to participate in an initiative named “Welcome to Palestine”. Delegations from France, Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, the USA, Japan and several African countries are expected.
Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport, the invited guests, all from countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, will make no secret of their intent to go to the occupied Palestinian territory. This nonviolent act, a civil society tsunami of sorts, only comes after Israel’s restriction of movement and access to and from Palestine for Palestinians and foreigners has exhausted all established channels that carry the responsibility to uphold international law first and their domestic laws second.
The greatest inaction has come from the US state department, even though it has put on record, multiple times, the fact that Israel is discriminating at its borders against US citizens.
It is also worth noting that the 1951 Israel friendship, commerce and navigation treaty explicitly states: “There shall be freedom of transit through the territories of each Party by the routes most convenient for international transit …” and persons “in transit shall be exempt from … unreasonable charges and requirements; and shall be free from unnecessary delays and restrictions.” So much for respecting signed agreements.
Israel, as a state and previously as a Zionist movement, has gone to every extreme to fragment and dispossess the Palestinian people. It has had accomplices every step of the way, starting with Great Britain and continuing to this very day with the US and the flock of UN member states that act more like parakeets to the US than sovereign states when it comes to Palestine.
Well, the game of inaction is coming to an end. When states fail, people take over. It is these people, like those coming to Palestine this week, or those attempting to reach the Israeli- blockaded Gaza Strip by sea, or those living in Palestine and resisting the occupation day in and day out, who will prove to historians once again that history is made of real people who have a keen sense of humanity and the courage to sacrifice.
Sam Bahour is one of the co-coordinators of the Right to Enter Campaign.