Despite assurances given to the EU presidency by Israeli authorities, foreigners continue to be barred from passing through Israeli-controlled access points when their destination is the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). “Arbitrary denials of entry and expulsions have not stopped. No transparent rules or mechanisms are in place so far. Palestinian families, vital service providers and businesses remain vulnerable to arbitrary denials of entry and residency. This is especially hard to accept at a time of major Christian and Muslim traditional festivities when families want to be together more then ever”, said Anita Abdullah, speaking for the Campaign for the Right of Entry to the oPt.
One example is Linda Ali Mahmood, a Palestinian American from Cleveland, Ohio who was refused entry at Ben Gurion airport on Thursday December 14th. Linda, who is deaf and disabled like her brother Shukri, had traveled in the hopes of spending time with her cancer stricken aunt but was denied entry allegedly because Shukri had overstayed his permit. Shukri had requested a routine permit renewal in October. However, the Israeli Ministry of Interior liaison at the Israeli Civil Administration suddenly stopped processing renewals for foreigners married to Palestinian ID-holders and refuses to accept Shukri’s application.
On December 13th, the EU Presidency met with Israeli Major General Yosef Mishlav, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), to discuss Israel’s policy on issuing visitor permits to foreign nationals residing with family or working in the oPt.
Several EU Member States have since informed their nationals that responsibility for issuing Israeli visitor permits for foreign passport holders entering the oPt has been transferred from the Ministry of Interior to COGAT, which is a part of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) command in the oPt. The EU Presidency also reported receiving the following assurances from General Mishlav:
The EU Member States have promised their nationals to monitor the implementation of the new procedures closely and have stated that they ‘shall continue to ensure that the issue of entry to the oPt for foreign nationals is continuously raised at the highest levels’. While the Campaign welcomes the efforts of foreign governments to resolve this urgent issue. However, tens of thousands of Palestinian families will remain separated or at risk, and Palestinian educational and social service institutions, humanitarian agencies and businesses will remain unable to prevent the loss of critical personnel until applications for entry and residency in the oPt are decided in accordance with a clear, transparent and internationally lawful policy.
The policy changes and systems introduced by the Israeli Ministry of Interior three months ago have been cancelled; New rules have been adopted permitting foreign nationals seeking entry into the oPt to apply for three-month visitor permit and permit renewals; EU spouses of Palestinians should apply for three month permits while COGAT considers longer term alternatives; a COGAT liaison is now in place at Allenby Bridge crossing and a liaison will be in place at Ben Gurion Airport ‘within weeks,’ to prevent problems at crossing points.