[News] Israel's New Separation Policy

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Aug 18 12:08:43 EDT 2009

August 18, 2009

U.S. Turns Blind Eye to Israel's
New Separation Policy


In an echo of restrictions already firmly in place in Gaza, Israel 
has begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those 
holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and 
thousands of Palestinian residents.

The new policy is designed to force foreign citizens, mainly from 
North America and Europe, to choose between visiting Israel -- 
including East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed illegally -- and 
the West Bank.

The new regulation is in breach of Israel's commitments under the 
Oslo accords to western governments that their citizens would be 
given continued access to the occupied territories. Israel has not 
suggested there are any security justifications for the new restriction.

Palestinian activists point out that the rule is being enforced 
selectively by Israel, which is barring foreign citizens of 
Palestinian origin from access to Israel and East Jerusalem while 
actively encouraging European and American Jews to settle in the West Bank.

US diplomats, who are aware of the policy, have raised no objections.

Additionally, human rights groups complain that the rule change will 
further separate East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian 
state, from the West Bank. It is also expected to increase the 
pressures on families where one member holds a foreign passport to 
leave the region and to disrupt the assistance aid organisations are 
able to give Palestinians.

According to observers, the regulation was introduced quietly three 
months ago at the Allenby Bridge terminal on the border with Jordan, 
the only international crossing point for Palestinians in the West 
Bank. Israeli officials, who control the border, now issue foreign 
visitors with a visa for the "Palestinian Authority only", preventing 
them from entering Israel and East Jerusalem.

Interior ministry officials say a similar policy is being adopted at 
Ben Gurion, Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv, to bar 
holders of foreign passports who arrive via this route from reaching 
the West Bank. Foreign citizens, especially those with Palestinian 
ancestry, are being turned away and told to seek entry via the Allenby Bridge.

Gaza has long been off-limits to any Palestinian who is not resident 
there and has been effectively closed to Israelis and most foreigners 
since early 2006, when Israel began its blockade.

"This is a deepening and refinement of the policy of separation that 
began with Israel establishing checkpoints in the West Bank and 
building the wall," said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American living in 
Ramallah who heads a Right to Enter campaign highlighting Israeli 
restrictions on Palestinian movement.

"Foreign governments like the US ought to be up in arms because this 
rule violates their own citizens' rights under diplomatic agreements. 
So far they have remained silent."

The US consulate in Jerusalem is aware of the increasing restrictions 
on foreign passport-holders, according to its website, but claims to 
be powerless to help.

The Right to Enter campaign notes that 60 per cent of all people 
turned back at the borders by Israeli officials are American citizens.

The consulate website notes both the denial of entry for many 
Palestinian-Americans at Ben Gurion airport, forcing them instead to 
use the Allenby Bridge crossing into the West Bank, and the issuing 
at the crossing of the "Palestinian Authority only" stamp, which 
excludes them from East Jerusalem and Israel.

"The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status 
changed; only Israeli liaison offices in the West Bank can assist -- 
but they rarely will," points out the website. "Travelers should be 
alert, and pay attention to which stamp they receive upon entry."

Mr Bahour said the immediate victims of the new policy would be 
thousands of Palestinians from abroad who, like himself, returned to 
the West Bank during the more optimistic Oslo period.

Well-educated and often with established careers, they have been 
vital both to the regeneration of the local Palestinian economy by 
investing in and setting up businesses and to the nurturing of a 
fledgling civil society by running welfare organisations and teaching 
at universities.

Although many have married local spouses and raised their children in 
the West Bank, Israel has usually denied them residency permits, 
forcing them to renew tourist visas every three months by temporarily 
leaving the region, often for years on end.

Mr Bahour said the latest rule change should be understood as one 
measure in a web of restrictions strangling normal Palestinian life 
that have been imposed by Israel, which controls the population 
registers for both Israelis and Palestinians.

In addition to the wall and checkpoints, he said, Israel regularly 
deported "foreigners", both humanitarian workers and those of 
Palestinian origin, arriving in the region; it denied family 
unification to prevent Palestinian couples living together; it often 
revoked the residency of Palestinians who study abroad for extended 
periods; and it confiscated Jerusalem IDs from Palestinians to push 
them into the West Bank.

He added that the US consulate appeared to have accepted Israel's 
right to treat American citizens differently based solely on their 
ethnic origin.

"While Palestinian-Americans are being denied entry to the region or 
excluded from Israel and East Jerusalem, Israel is actively 
encouraging American Jews to come and settle in the West Bank."

In early 2006 Mr Bahour, who is married with two daughters, was 
affected by another rule change when Israel refused to renew tourist 
visas to Palestinians with foreign passports, forcing them to 
separate from their families in the West Bank.

After an international outcry, Israel revoked the policy but insisted 
that Palestinians such as Mr Bahour apply for permits from the 
Israeli military authorities to remain in the West Bank.

"This latest rule, like the earlier one, fits into Israel's general 
goal of ethnic cleansing," he said. "Israel makes life ever more 
difficult to encourage any Palestinians who can, such as those with 
foreign passports, to leave."

Mr Bahour said the new restrictions would further sever the West Bank 
from Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian commercial and cultural life.

Overnight, he said, his Ramallah business consultancy had lost a 
quarter of its clients -- all from nearby East Jerusalem -- because 
he was now barred from leaving the West Bank.

He lost his limited privileges last month when he finally received a 
Palestinian ID. He said he had been forced to take the ID, which 
supersedes his American passport in the eyes of the Israeli 
authorities, to avoid the danger of being deported.

"The ID was bittersweet for me. It means I can't be separated from my 
family here, but it also means my American passport is not recognized 
and I am now subject to the closures and arrests faced by ordinary 

Sari Bashi, a lawyer with Gisha, an Israeli organization that 
challenges restrictions on Palestinian movement, said the new policy 
was placing a severe obstacle in the way of humanitarian 
organizations, as well as foreigners working in Palestinian welfare 
organizations and academic institutions.

"Many of the aid organizations working in the West Bank have offices 
and staff in East Jerusalem and even in Israel, and it's difficult to 
see how they are going to cope with this new restriction."

She said staff of major international organizations such as the 
United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA, and its humanitarian division, 
OCHA, had been denied entry at Ben Gurion airport after declaring 
that they were working in the West Bank.

"When Israel prevents access to an area, it raises the question of 
what is happening there," she said. "What are we being prevented from seeing?"

Human rights groups are also concerned by the wording of the new 
restriction, confining foreign citizens to the "Palestinian 
Authority". The PA rules over only about 40 per cent of the West 
Bank. The groups fear that in the future Israel may seek to prevent 
foreigners from moving between the PA-controlled enclaves of the West 
Bank and the 60 per cent under Israel control.

Guy Imbar, a spokesman for Israel's Coordinator of Government 
Activities in the Territories, said the phrase referred to the entire 
West Bank.

But Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions 
warned: "Given Israel's track record, it is right to be suspicious 
that the restriction may be reinterpreted at a later date."

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, 
Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and 
"Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed 
Books). His website is <http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae/>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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