Israel effectively barring tourists from West Bank by neglecting to explain mandatory permit
To visit Palestinian-controlled areas, some foreign nationals need military entry permit that Israel doesn’t explain how to get.
Since the beginning of 2013, Israel has forbidden tourists from the United States and other countries to enter the territories under Palestinian Authority control without a military entry permit – but it has not explained the application process to them.
Haaretz has learned of a recent case where clerics from the United States had to sign a declaration at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, promising not to enter Area A without permits from the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories.
The clerics signed the declaration, but representatives of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority did not explain to them how to get the permits.
Not every tourist who is planning to visit the West Bank is required to sign the declaration, and no criteria have been published for how people are selected to do so.
The American clerics, who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity, were sent by their church to work with Christian communities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As a result of the declaration they signed and their inability to decipher the procedure for obtaining the permit, they have been unable to meet with the members of Christian communities in West Bank cities or visit holy places, like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
One of the signers, who turned to the United States Consulate in Jerusalem for help, told Haaretz that the consulate employees are unaware of the existence of the declaration.
The text of the English-language version of the document reads:
“1. I understand that this permit is granted me for entry and visitation within Israel only, and it has been explained to me that I am unable to enter the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority without advance authorization from the Territory Actions Coordinator and I agree to act in accordance with these regulations.
“2. I understand that in the event that I enter any area under the control of the Palestinian Authority without the appropriate authorization all relevant legal actions will be taken against me, including deportation and denial of entry into Israel for a period of up to ten years.”
In the Hebrew version, there is also a clear statement that unauthorized entry to the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority is a transgression of the law. This is omitted from the English version.
The English version does not use the official and common English title “Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” but translates the Hebrew as “Territory Actions Coordinator,” raising doubts as to whether the coordinator’s office has seen the form.
The spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, Sabine Haddad, wrote to Haaretz that the Entry into Israel Law authorizes the interior minister to decide on the entry of foreigners to the State of Israel, but in the case of Judea and Samaria, the Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff makes the determination – with a permit from the coordinator’s office required by security legislation.
“When a tourist/foreign national arrives at the international border crossings and it is believed that he wants to enter Judea and Samaria, he should be informed [of the procedure] and asked for his promise to receive a permit from the coordinator’s office before his entry – a permit that constitutes an essential condition [of entry to the Palestinian Authority controlled areas],” said Haddad.
Haddad did not reply to Haaretz’s request for explanation of the pertinent clauses of the law, nor did she provide Haaretz with information about the department in the coordinator’s office from which to request the permit. On the English website of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories – a military unit that carries out and implements civilian policy in the territories – including the part dealing with ties with international organizations, there is no mention of the existence of such a procedure. In reply to an inquiry by Haaretz, the spokesman for the coordinator’s office said the matter of the procedure and the form is being examined.
About seven years ago, there was a report of a similar declaration that tourists were required to sign, but the practice was discontinued and renewed only at the beginning of this year. Several years ago, the Interior Ministry also began to limit the freedom of movement of tourists with work and family ties in the West Bank and to prevent their entry into Israel by means of a permit with the stamp “For the territories of Judea and Samaria only.”
Attorney Adi Lustigman turned Haaretz’s attention to a legal decision from August 2010 by Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Yoed Hacohen, which dealt with the appeal she filed against preventing the entry into Israel of an American citizen. Hacohen ruled that even according to the Oslo Accords, which the Interior Ministry occasionally relies on to explain restrictions on the movement of tourists, citizens of countries that have diplomatic ties with Israel need only an entry permit for Israel and a valid passport to enter Palestinian Authority territories. They are not required to have visiting permits from the Palestinian Authority, which are granted with the approval of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (as is required of citizens of countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel, and citizens from Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan).
Lustigman believes the policy behind the declaration is illegal because it discriminates between foreign citizens whose destination is the settlements and those whose destination is Palestinian areas. The form itself, Lustigman says, “is not legal because it was formulated for an improper purpose – isolating the occupied territories – and in an improper manner. It makes the assumption that people who arrive in Israel as tourists, as clerics and for other purposes want to act in contradiction to the law, which may not even have been explained to them clearly.
“There is no reason to threaten foreign citizens, to turn them into suspects and to make them sign, as a condition for entering Israel, a form whose wording and content are unclear … If there really is such a procedure, it should be publicized in a simple, clear and accessible manner, and instead of handing out a threatening sheet of paper, they should hand out a paper containing an explanation and procedures for making the request. Because the Interior Ministry does not do so, and as far as I know neither does the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, it seems that there is no operative procedure, nor any procedure for submitting a request. We are left only with a prohibition, which, as we have mentioned, is invalid.”
The spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate did not answer Haaretz’s question as to whether Israel has informed the American authorities about the restriction and the obligation to sign, and did not explain the viewpoint of the U.S. Department of State on the issue.
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.