Today, Adalah submitted a petition to the Nazareth District Court on behalf of nine members of the European Voluntary Service (EVS) Program and Baladna - Association for Arab Youth, against the Ministry of Interior. In the petition, Adalah requested that the Ministry of Interior allow the nine volunteers to enter Israel and issue them new three-month tourist visas. Adalah also filed a motion for an immediate hearing in the case.
The volunteers, from six European countries, came to Israel in February 2003 for a six-month youth exchange program under the auspices of the Euro-Med Youth Programme. The program is intended to contribute to realizing the objectives set forth in the 1995 Barcelona Declaration, signed by 27 European and Mediterranean countries, including Israel. In cooperation with local host organizations, the volunteers have been involved in a range of activities in Haifa, East Jerusalem and Hebron, including work with disabled children and unemployed youth, as well as assisting with a variety of social and cultural projects.
The Israel Youth Exchange Council, national coordinator for the Euro-Med Youth Programme in Israel, provided full details of the volunteers’ intended activities to the Ministry of Interior, prior to their arrival in February 2003. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the volunteers were each issued three-month tourist visas, although the European Commission had requested six-month visas for them.
Following the expiration of these visas, they traveled to Jordan for one week. On 11 May 2003 they attempted to return to Israel via the Allenby Bridge, where they were denied entry to the country, in addition to being subjected to an intensive and humiliating search of their persons and luggage. No reason was given for the denial of entry; the volunteers remain in Jordan.
In the petition, submitted by Adalah Staff Attorney Abeer Baker, Adalah argued that the decision to prevent the volunteers from entering Israel violates Israel’s commitments under the Barcelona Declaration. Further, Adalah argued that the Ministry of Interior exercised its discretion in an arbitrary manner, without any criteria and without providing any reasons to justify its decision to deny the volunteers entry to Israel.
The Ministry of Interior’s decision must be based on reasonable considerations and verified information. The arbitrary nature of the Ministry’s refusal to allow the volunteers to enter the country contradicts its stated policy on this issue, as expressed in a letter received by Adalah in April 2002. In the letter, the Ministry stated that its policy is to allow humanitarian workers to enter Israel, but that it has the right to deny entry to anyone whose purpose is not clear, or who has not coordinated their arrival in advance. In this case, both of these conditions were satisfied, and the volunteers did not deviate from their declared program of activities.
The denial of entry to the volunteers has caused and is continuing to cause damage to the local Arab host organizations in Haifa, East Jerusalem and Hebron, and violates their right to freedom of association. These organizations have been forced to suspend planned activities involving the volunteers, and have incurred numerous expenses related to this case. Most importantly, the beneficiaries of the programs, who depend on the services being provided by the volunteers, are also suffering.
Adalah stressed that denying entry to the volunteers could have far-reaching implications on Israel’s future cooperation with the European Union, and could lead to the cancellation of the EVS program.