In March 2006, the Israeli government initiated a policy of visa denial to individuals of Palestinian descent having foreign passports, many of whom Israel has arbitrarily denied residency rights to in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Many of these persons have lived in the OPT for years without succeeding to obtain residency rights even though they made Palestine their primary residence and place of employment/business, married local Palestinians, and had children who were born in Palestine.
These people have managed to stay in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by means of tourist visas issued by the Israeli government. Such visas are valid for three months. Their holders are obliged to go abroad to renew them. Those who cannot afford to travel abroad become illegal sojourners and live in perpetual fear of being deported, which confines them to their homes. Those who go abroad have no assurance that they will be allowed to return, and in recent years the number of people denied reentry has increased significantly. Indeed, at this time, most persons of Palestinian origin attempting to transit via Israel in order to return to their families and occupations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have been denied entry. Additionally, just recently 105 passports that had been submitted for visa extension were returned by the Israeli authorities with no extension beyond the end of 2006, and all stamped “last visa,” meaning that there would be no further visa extensions and that the holders of these passports would be forced to leave. And only today, December 5, 2006, we learn from the Palestinian campaign for entry rights, of an escalation in Israeli policy. The Ministry of Interior now refuses to process visa extensions at all (see Press Release below). As a result of this ‘entry-denied’ policy, families are torn apart, schooling for the children is disrupted, and economic disasters follow.
Among the entry-denied individuals are professionals from foreign countries who are not necessarily Palestinian. This group includes physicians, teachers, professors, students, social workers, and professionals in a variety of fields filling critically important positions in hospitals, schools, universities, and social institutions. Those being forced to leave by being denied entry or re-entry leave a vacuum in institutions unable to find replacements. This is devastating for all concerned, and has life-threatening implications particularly in the field of medical care. On the one hand, the ability of hospitals in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to treat Palestinians is constantly diminishing while on the other hand Israel’s General Security Services (‘Shabak’) often denies access to Israeli hospitals for treatment.
A group of concerned Israeli citizens has organized to protest this injustice which stands in gross contradiction to Israel’s self-declared image as a democratic state supportive of human rights and aspiring to a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinian people. We, the members of the Israel Committee for the Right of Residency, have been calling upon the Israeli public to join us in demanding that our government desist from denying residency rights in the Occupied Territories to Palestinians or persons of Palestinian descent with foreign passports, as well as to foreign professionals contributing to the welfare of the Palestinian population. We have been meeting with staffs of foreign embassies in Israel and have called upon them to use their good offices to intercede with the Israeli authorities to change the imposed restrictions. However, embassies do not make policy. They carry out the policies of their governments.
We therefore call upon you, people of conscience living abroad, to organize campaigns to inform your officials in your countries about Israel’s policy of ‘entry-denied.’ We ask you to write letters requesting them to demand that Israel change its policy. We also ask Israelis and citizens of other countries to write letters of protest to the Israeli Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, and for those of you who are academics or are in the medical profession to additionally write to the Minister of Education and Minister of Health. A statement of your professional concern in your protests should give your letters additional weight. This is not intended to be a restriction. Everyone may write to all four ministers, as well as to anyone else whom you think might influence policy.