A notice recently issued by the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (CoGAT), states changes in Israel’s policy of denying entry to foreign nationals traveling into the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The notice, delivered to chief Palestinian negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erakat on December 28, 2006, states that entry of foreign nationals “will be permitted through means of the military commander’s consent.” The notice further explains that restricted foreign nationals will be ‘eligible’ to apply for temporary entry into the oPt as well as periodic visa renewals. It outlines the procedures for processing these applications.
The Campaign for Right to Entry/Re-entry regards this as a rare moment when the Israeli authorities have acknowledged in writing the severe humanitarian crisis brought on by Israeli policies of denying foreign nationals the right to family reunification and entry to the oPt. Yet the CoGAT notice leaves many questions unanswered and the crisis unresolved. Since these new procedures were introduced, foreign nationals with family in the oPt have been denied entry under circumstances that indicate the implementation of the newly announced procedures remains arbitrary, abusive and internationally unlawful. One example is Fadah Thum, a Brazilian citizen married to a local Palestinian who has been living in the West Bank since 2001.
Fadah is the mother of a five-month-old baby. Fadah had been renewing her visa every three months until September 2006 when, along with hundreds of others, she was suddenly given a ‘last permit’ stamp on her visa and was forced to leave her home, husband and baby in December. A few days after leaving, she tried to return after CoGAT’s announcement that Israel had changed its policy and
was denied entry. There are more reasons for serious concern. The notice addresses only the issue of temporary admissions. Procedures remain unclear
for granting residency to foreign nationals whose life and livelihood is in the oPt.
Currently, Israel is refusing to consider over 120,000 applications for family
unification, forcing many families to relocate abroad. Together with many foreign nationals who have established their primary business or professional activities in the oPt, or otherwise aspire to build their lives in the oPt, these new procedures place them, at best, in a state of continuous uncertainty, under constant threat of expulsion and exclusion.
CoGAT’s announcement also does not offer a solution for the thousands of individuals who have remained in the oPt after the expiration of their permits because they feared they would be denied reentry. The notice also fails to indicate if foreign nationals seeking entry into occupied East Jerusalem
or the Gaza Strip will be eligible to apply for temporary admission or visa extensions. Furthermore, the arrangements set by Israelis authorities suggest that individuals who have not been issued permits will be barred from entering the West Bank, as is presently the case with the Gaza Strip.
The Campaign reiterates that international humanitarian law and international human rights law are the sole relevant legal references in the oPt, not Israeli law, and calls on the Government of Israel to end all arbitrary and abusive denials of entry, re-entry and family reunion in the oPt.