U.S. Consul General Jake Walles and chief staff members of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and U.S. Embassy in Israel met with representatives of the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to discuss Israel’s new policy of denying entry into Israel of U.S. and other foreign nationals wishing to access the occupied Palestinian territory. The Campaign delegates presented Ambassador Walles with an overview of the Israeli practice and the detrimental effect it is having on family unification, economic and academic development, and the maintaining of a pluralistic social fabric needed to advance an environment for peace in the area. Ambassador Walles acknowledged that there has been a noticeable change in the past six months of Israeli practices in issuing visas and expressed concern about the negative impact of those actions. He stated that the Consulate has been actively involved in registering and trying to assist U.S. citizens that have reported being denied entry.
There are two general clusters of people that are affected by these new Israeli travel restrictions.
The first refers to the more than 120,000 persons who have applied for family unification as per Israeli-defined rules and regulations but have been unable to gain permanent residency due to the Israeli refusal to process these applications. The majority of these applicants are Palestinian I.D. holders requesting residency for their spouse. The Campaign representatives noted that their research shows that a significant number of these pending applications are for U.S. citizens and they requested that the U.S. demand Israel immediately process these applications in a transparent and accountable fashion, especially given that the occupied Palestinian territory falls under International and Humanitarian Law and not Israeli sovereignty. The second group of people affected are foreign nationals, whether Arab-American or otherwise, destined to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for short-term visits for summer vacation, to marry, or attend a family event. There are others who are longer-term visitors and are actively involved in various productive sectors of society, such as teachers, professors, businesspersons, NGO staff, etc.
Campaign representatives urged the U.S. to intervene to secure safe passage through Israel for all foreign nationals wanting to reach the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Campaign representatives articulated that for the Palestinians to be able to meet the obligations that the international community desires of them, it is imperative that the human resources, those from Palestinian decent or otherwise, are permitted to have free and unfettered access to the oPt. The Campaign was briefed by Consul General Walles and his staff on coordination efforts between officials of the U.S. Consulate and European Union nations, many of whose citizens are also among those being refused entry, about Israel’s denial of visa practices.
While in Washington, DC recently, Ambassador Walles advised that he discussed this issue with Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, and emphasized that data collection was imperative. The Ambassador expressed his hope that the Campaign and Arab-American organizations in the U.S. would appeal to their communities to document any denied entry cases.
The U.S. Consulate has developed a form to allow U.S. citizens register their treatment at Israeli border crossings and in order document denial of entry cases. In addition, the Consulate and Embassy provided hotlines for those experiencing difficulties at Israeli ports of entry and urged that all instances of such Israeli denials of entry to be immediately reported. The telephone numbers to be used for those arriving at the Allenby Bridge crossing is 02-622-7230 (8am-4pm) and 02-622- 7250 (outside of business hours). Those entering through other Israeli ports should call 03-519- 7551. The web site for travel warnings is http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1064.html.
The State Department makes special reference in their Travel Warning and Consular Information Sheet on Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to the restrictions that Israel may put on Arab Americans in particular and Americans in general “who have expressed sympathy with the Palestinian cause … or intended to travel to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip”.
Consul General Walles requested a follow-up meeting with the Campaign that will be held in two weeks time to track the issue.
The Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry is a volunteer group of individuals and families affected by the current Israeli occupation authorities’ policy that denies entry to foreign passport holders to theoccupied Palestinian territory (oPt) via the Israeli unilaterally controlled international border crossings to the oPt.