[News] Israel's New Separation Policy
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
By JONATHAN COOK
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
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
"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
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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