All foreign passports of spouses and children of Palestinian ID-holders who had applied for visa extensions were marked recently as “last permit” by the Israeli authorities. 105 passport holders are required to exit from Israeli controlled entry/exit points before the end of the year. The Israeli Ministry of Interior (MoI) office at Beit El began returning the passports on November 19 after a six-week strike by Israeli MoI employees. Those who overstay their allotted time will be considered “illegal” and are subject to immediate deportation from the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In an effort to avoid being considered “illegal” and threatened with arrest by the Israelis, some families are opting to relocate abroad. The pattern of refusing visa renewals for family members is part of an overall Israeli effort that denies entry to foreign nationals seeking access to the oPt.
The impact of Israel’s practice includes the forced separation of spouses from each other, parents from their children, educators and students from their schools, healthcare, NGO and humanitarian workers from access to needy communities, and business owners from their investments. According to the PA MoI, hundreds of applications for Israeli visa extensions following Israeli guidelines were submitted in October and are still pending. Also, Israel is refusing to process an estimated 120,000 family unification residency applications. Every denial of entry and visa renewal refusal impacts an estimated 10 people, many of whom subsequently resort to moving to another country. “This is a silent ethnic cleansing,” said Basil Ayish, a spokesperson from the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to the oPt.
Despite official complaints by foreign governments of discrimination against their citizens by Israel, Israel continues to disregard its obligations under international law and agreements and persists in its practice of changing the demographics within the oPt. The U.S. State Department, EU, and at least one Latin American country have all submitted demarches to Israeli officials since October. Foreigners wishing to reside in, visit or work in the oPt continue to be banned at Israeli-controlled ports of entry.
Because Israel refuses to permit non-Jewish foreigners from receiving residency status in the oPt, the only mechanism for foreign passport-holding spouses and children of Palestinian ID-holders to join their families has been to rely on a system of continuously renewable 1, 2, or 3-month ‘visitor’ permits. This practice was widely expected to be a transitory measure until mechanisms were put in place to provide permanent residency status for non-ID holding family members. Some family members have been following this procedure for more than 30 years as the only option open to them.