Human Rights Watch Says Israel Designed Entry Rules to Further Cut Off Palestinians From Outside World

"By making it harder for people to spend time in the West Bank, Israel is taking yet another step toward turning the West Bank into another Gaza, where two million Palestinians have lived virtually sealed off from the outside world for over 15 years."

Posted on

A top Human Rights Watch official warned Monday that restrictions recently placed by Israel's apartheid government on "foreigners" – including Palestinians – seeking entry into the West Bank could turn the illegally occupied territory into "another Gaza," which is often described as the "world's largest open-air prison."

Last year, a three-page document used by Israeli authorities to screen foreign nationals wishing to enter the West Bank was replaced by a 61-page guide detailing occupation forces' policies and procedures for foreigners seeking to visit only the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, or to extend a stay for specific purposes including studying, teaching, volunteering, or working there.

"The guidelines are distinct from those for entering Israel, which are normally applied at Ben Gurion Airport and other ports of entry," explained HRW – whose own Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was denied an entry permit under the new rules. "A West Bank permit holder without an Israeli entry visa has no legal authorization to enter Israel, nor occupied East Jerusalem."

HRW deputy Middle East director Eric Goldstein said in a statement that "by making it harder for people to spend time in the West Bank, Israel is taking yet another step toward turning the West Bank into another Gaza, where two million Palestinians have lived virtually sealed off from the outside world for over 15 years. This policy is designed to weaken the social, cultural, and intellectual ties that Palestinians have tried to maintain with the outside world."

HRW interviewed 13 people last year "who detailed difficulties they have faced for years entering or remaining in the West Bank and their concerns about how the new guidelines will affect them."

"Ayman," who was born in Europe in the mid-1990s to a Palestinian father from the West Bank and a European mother, has lived in the West Bank most of his life. However, because he has no Palestinian identification card, he has relied upon visas in his European passport to remain in the West Bank and fears the new regulations could endanger his ability to remain in Palestine.

"Palestine for me is home," as "my childhood, schools, classmates, friends, extended family, relatives, and all the memories I have are all here," he told HRW, and yet "I am in Palestine as a tourist, as a European citizen."

"I may lose the right to visit," Ayman added. "I won't be able to visit as a tourist either according to these regulations."

HRW asserted that "while countries have wide discretion over entry into their sovereign territory, international humanitarian law requires occupying powers to act in the best interest of the occupied population or to maintain security or public order."

"There are no apparent justifications based on security, public order, or the best interests of Palestinians for how significantly Israeli authorities restrict volunteers, academics, or students from entering the West Bank or Palestinians' loved ones from remaining on a long-term basis," the group argued.

"By excessively restricting Palestinian families' ability to spend time together, and blocking the entry of academics, students, and nongovernmental workers who would contribute to social, cultural, political, and intellectual life in the West Bank, Israel's restrictions fall afoul of its duty, which increases in a prolonged occupation, to facilitate normal civil life for the occupied population," HRW continued.

"Israel's duties as an occupying power require it to facilitate foreigners' entry to the West Bank in an orderly manner," HRW added. "Subject to an individualized security assessment and absent compelling reason of law, Israeli authorities should at minimum grant permits of reasonable duration to foreigners who would contribute to life of the West Bank, including the family members of Palestinians and those working with Palestinian civil society, and residency to immediate relatives."

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.