Monday, November 20, 2017

Israel bans tourists from visiting West Bank 


By Leona Vicario - June 17, 2013
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Israeli law] [border crossings]

A delegation of North American religious tourists was banned from visiting the West Bank recently upon their arrival to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. Israeli authorities at the airport forbade them from entering the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank without an Israeli-issued military entry permit, as first reported by Amira Hass of Haaretz

The visitors, US Christian clerics who came to Israel and Palestine to collaborate with Christian communities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, were forced to sign an agreement with the Israeli authorities guaranteeing that they would not enter territories under Palestinian civil and military control (Area A) without explicit authorization from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the de-facto governing body of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank.
 
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz shared an extract of the English-translated declaration that the tourists were requested to sign:
 
"1. I understand that this permit is granted me for entry and visitation within Israel only, and it has been explained to me that I am unable to enter the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority without advance authorization from the Territory Actions Coordinator and I agree to act in accordance with these regulations.

"2. I understand that in the event that I enter any area under the control of the Palestinian Authority without the appropriate authorization all relevant legal actions will be taken against me, including deportation and denial of entry into Israel for a period of up to ten years."
Despite their agreement, the group did not receive further information from Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority regarding the procedure required to obtain the necessary entry permit.
 
The contract explicitly states that authorization must be approved by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The first paragraph of the aforementioned contract makes specific reference to a permission from Israel’s “Territory Actions Coordinator;” however, the signees were never given procedural instructions on how to do so and no relevant information can be found on COGAT’s website.
 
"Our experience with Israeli measures is that they always try to have things unclear and ambiguous with lack of transparency," explains Ghassan Abdullah, an activist with Right to Enter; a grassroots campaign focused on defending the rights of access, movement and residency in the occupied territories against the preventive mechanisms Israel implements by unilaterally controlling all border crossings. 
 
"They keep the uncertainty and arbitrariness on purpose, allowing officials at borders and ministries a large measure of variation in their actions. It is hard to find a 'law' that governs their measures. They are willing to compromise on some cases when there is diplomatic pressure or a media scandal. That is why we always demand Israel's adoption and implementation of a clear, documented and transparent policy," Ghassan concludes. 
 
The official explanations, the spokeswoman for Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, Sabine Haddad, explained that the decision regarding who is entitled to enter the West Bank—an area for which she used the biblical name “Judea and Samaria”—rests with the Israeli Defense Forces chief instead of the Ministry of Interior, which has jurisdiction over the entry of foreigners into Israel. “When a tourist/foreign national arrives at the international border crossings and it is believed that he wants to enter Judea and Samaria, he should be informed [of the procedure] and asked for his promise to receive a permit from the coordinator’s office before his entry – a permit that constitutes an essential condition [of entry to the Palestinian Authority controlled areas]," Haddad argued in a written statement to Haaretz.
 
Continuous Restrictions on West Bank Visitors 
 
This kind of measure stands in contradiction to some of the propaganda that the state of Israel uses in attempt to promote religious tourism. The same unit involved in the above-mentioned bureaucratic maze, COGAT, states in one of its press releases: "We represent Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, which provides liberty to every person to exercise his religious right."
 
However, the effective control Israel has over Palestinian borders continually prevents the access of any kind of tourist, either religious or not, to the occupied territories, especially for those whom are suspected to be journalists, related to Palestinians or activists.
 
On September 2012, an international delegation of activists were prevented from crossing the King Hussein border when they tried to reach the West Bank from Jordan as a part of a third failed attempt of the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign; a mission aiming to raise awareness regarding freedom of movement issues for Palestinians that stem from Israel’s ongoing isolation policies.
 
Tourists arriving to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport may also be asked, and must provide or face deportation, the passwords to their e-mail and Facebook accounts for reasons connected to state 'security.’ “It is performed only in exceptional instances, after other relevant incriminating indications are found,” argued the Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein in response to a petition regarding the intrusive search procedures filed by the Association for Civil rights in Israel in April. Contrary to Weinstein’s argument, the subjects of that requirement are usually tourist suspected to be potential visitors to the West Bank, as Right to Enter campaign assures. The organization also states that this practice is being intensified. 
 
"It must be noted that Israel has reserved for itself the exclusive power of civil registration and issuing IDs for Palestinians, visitors visas and work permits for non-ID holders to the oPt (occupied Palestinians territories)," reports Right to Enter on its website. "By these means it is conducting a swift and effective silent transfer of the Palestinian population while the latter is living at the mercy of the Israeli occupation authorities."
 
For those subject to such practices, the Right to Enter campaign suggests the following actions: Inform one's diplomatic mission beforehand in Tel Aviv or Consulate in Jerusalem, inform relevant bodies in one’s country of origin, and go public—i.e. contact the media or engage an Israeli lawyer. 

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