COOK: US turns blind eye to Israel’s new separation policy 17Aug09 August 17, 2009

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by Jonathan Cook – ZNet – 17 August 2009

Jerusalem. In an echo of restrictions already firmly in place in Gaza, Israel has begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and thousands of Palestinian residents.

The new policy is designed to force foreign citizens, mainly from North America and Europe, to choose between visiting Israel — including East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed illegally — and the West Bank.

The new regulation is in breach of Israel’s commitments under the Oslo accords to western governments that their citizens would be given continued access to the occupied territories. Israel has not suggested there are any security justifications for the new restriction.

Palestinian activists point out that the rule is being enforced selectively by Israel, which is barring foreign citizens of Palestinian origin from access to Israel and East Jerusalem while actively encouraging European and American Jews to settle in the West Bank.

US diplomats, who are aware of the policy, have raised no objections.

Additionally, human rights groups complain that the rule change will further separate East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state, from the West Bank. It is also expected to increase the pressures on families where one member holds a foreign passport to leave the region and to disrupt the assistance aid organisations are able to give Palestinians.

According to observers, the regulation was introduced quietly three months ago at the Allenby Bridge terminal on the border with Jordan, the only international crossing point for Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli officials, who control the border, now issue foreign visitors with a visa for the “Palestinian Authority only”, preventing them from entering Israel and East Jerusalem.

Interior ministry officials say a similar policy is being adopted at Ben Gurion, Israel’s international airport near Tel Aviv, to bar holders of foreign passports who arrive via this route from reaching the West Bank. Foreign citizens, especially those with Palestinian ancestry, are being turned away and told to seek entry via the Allenby Bridge.

Gaza has long been off-limits to any Palestinian who is not resident there and has been effectively closed to Israelis and most foreigners since early 2006, when Israel began its blockade.

“This is a deepening and refinement of the policy of separation that began with Israel establishing checkpoints in the West Bank and building the wall,” said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah who heads a Right to Enter campaign highlighting Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement.

“Foreign governments like the US ought to be up in arms because this rule violates their own citizens’ rights under diplomatic agreements. So far they have remained silent.”

The US consulate in Jerusalem is aware of the increasing restrictions on foreign passport-holders, according to its website, but claims to be powerless to help.

The Right to Enter campaign notes that 60 per cent of all people turned back at the borders by Israeli officials are American citizens.

The consulate website notes both the denial of entry for many Palestinian-Americans at Ben Gurion airport, forcing them instead to use the Allenby Bridge crossing into the West Bank, and the issuing at the crossing of the “Palestinian Authority only” stamp, which excludes them from East Jerusalem and Israel.

“The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status changed; only Israeli liaison offices in the West Bank can assist — but they rarely will,” points out the website. “Travelers should be alert, and pay attention to which stamp they receive upon entry.”

Mr Bahour, 44, said the immediate victims of the new policy would be thousands of Palestinians from abroad who, like himself, returned to the West Bank during the more optimistic Oslo period.

Well-educated and often with established careers, they have been vital both to the regeneration of the local Palestinian economy by investing in and setting up businesses and to the nurturing of a fledgling civil society by running welfare organisations and teaching at universities.

Although many have married local spouses and raised their children in the West Bank, Israel has usually denied them residency permits, forcing them to renew tourist visas every three months by temporarily leaving the region, often for years on end.

Mr Bahour said the latest rule change should be understood as one measure in a web of restrictions strangling normal Palestinian life that have been imposed by Israel, which controls the population registers for both Israelis and Palestinians.

In addition to the wall and checkpoints, he said, Israel regularly deported “foreigners”, both humanitarian workers and those of Palestinian origin, arriving in the region; it denied family unification to prevent Palestinian couples living together; it often revoked the residency of Palestinians who study abroad for extended periods; and it confiscated Jerusalem IDs from Palestinians to push them into the West Bank.

He added that the US consulate appeared to have accepted Israel’s right to treat American citizens differently based solely on their ethnic origin.

“While Palestinian-Americans are being denied entry to the region or excluded from Israel and East Jerusalem, Israel is actively encouraging American Jews to come and settle in the West Bank.”

In early 2006 Mr Bahour, who is married with two daughters, was affected by another rule change when Israel refused to renew tourist visas to Palestinians with foreign passports, forcing them to separate from their families in the West Bank.

After an international outcry, Israel revoked the policy but insisted that Palestinians such as Mr Bahour apply for permits from the Israeli military authorities to remain in the West Bank.

“This latest rule, like the earlier one, fits into Israel’s general goal of ethnic cleansing,” he said. “Israel makes life ever more difficult to encourage any Palestinians who can, such as those with foreign passports, to leave.”

Mr Bahour said the new restrictions would further sever the West Bank from Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian commercial and cultural life.

Overnight, he said, his Ramallah business consultancy had lost a quarter of its clients — all from nearby East Jerusalem — because he was now barred from leaving the West Bank.

He lost his limited privileges last month when he finally received a Palestinian ID. He said he had been forced to take the ID, which supersedes his American passport in the eyes of the Israeli authorities, to avoid the danger of being deported.

“The ID was bittersweet for me. It means I can’t be separated from my family here, but it also means my American passport is not recognised and I am now subject to the closures and arrests faced by ordinary Palestinians.”

Sari Bashi, a lawyer with Gisha, an Israeli organisation that challenges restrictions on Palestinian movement, said the new policy was placing a severe obstacle in the way of humanitarian organisations, as well as foreigners working in Palestinian welfare organisations and academic institutions.

“Many of the aid organisations working in the West Bank have offices and staff in East Jerusalem and even in Israel, and it’s difficult to see how they are going to cope with this new restriction.”

She said staff of major international organisations such as the United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA, and its humanitarian division, OCHA, had been denied entry at Ben Gurion airport after declaring that they were working in the West Bank.

“When Israel prevents access to an area, it raises the question of what is happening there,” she said. “What are we being prevented from seeing?”

Human rights groups are also concerned by the wording of the new restriction, confining foreign citizens to the “Palestinian Authority”. The PA rules over only about 40 per cent of the West Bank. The groups fear that in the future Israel may seek to prevent foreigners from moving between the PA-controlled enclaves of the West Bank and the 60 per cent under Israel control.

Guy Imbar, a spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said the phrase referred to the entire West Bank.

But Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions warned: “Given Israel’s track record, it is right to be suspicious that the restriction may be reinterpreted at a later date.”

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is <>






In recent weeks, the Government of Israel has imposed two new policies restricting the movements of foreigners visiting the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and Israel. First, foreigners entering the West Bank through Allenby crossing have been issued visas for the “Palestinian Authority only”. Second, foreigners entering Israel through Ben Gurion Airport have been required to sign statements committing themselves not to enter Palestinian National Authority controlled areas of the West Bank under penalty of legal action (see Annex).

These policies violate the Interim Agreements concluded between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as international law. Third states whose nationals are subjected to such illegal policies have an obligation to object once the facts are made known to them and their nationals ask them to respond or to take action. Choosing not to object would imply third states’ acceptance of Israel’s unlawful acts, in violation of third states’ duty of non-recognition.

Moreover, these policies run afoul of Palestinian and international efforts – not to mention Israel’s declared intention – to improve the Palestinian economy. If not halted, these policies will further contribute to the isolation and fragmentation of the oPt, with serious adverse implications for the socio-economic situation.

Over the years, Israel has pursued a policy of fragmenting the oPt through physical and legal or administrative barriers. Movement between Gaza and the West Bank has become increasingly difficult for foreigners, and virtually impossible for Palestinian residents of either. Palestinian West Bank ID holders have not had free access to East Jerusalem and other illegally annexed areas since the early 1990s. All areas west of the Wall have become ‘closed zones’ following the first such designation in the northern West Bank in 2003. Access to the Jordan Valley has also been restricted for non-residents of the area.

States are therefore urged to take steps to ensure that Israel immediately reverses these latest restrictive policies on movement, and restores normal movement and access to, from and within the oPt.
WEBSITE: | TELEPHONE: +972-2-296-3741

Violation of the Interim Agreement Paragraph 14 of Article 28 of Annex III of the Interim Agreement1 states that:
Persons from countries having diplomatic relations with Israel who visit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank shall either be required to obtain the aforementioned visitor’s permit or to hold a valid passport and an Israeli visa, when required. Such visitors can enter Israel during the validity of their visit permit, without any need for another permit.

Similarly, paragraph 13(b) of the same article states that: visitors [from countries not having diplomatic relations with Israel who visit] the Gaza Strip and the West Bank shall be permitted to remain in these areas for a period of up to three months granted by the Palestinian side and cleared by Israel. Such visitors can enter Israel during the validity of their visit permit, without any need for another permit.

Furthermore, paragraph 1(e) of Article 9 of Annex I of the Interim Agreement states that:
Tourists to the West Bank and Gaza Strip from countries having diplomatic relations with Israel, who have passed through an international crossing, will not be required to pass any additional control before entry into Israel.

Thus, the imposition by Israeli authorities of a travel restriction to “Palestinian Authority only” areas is in direct violation of the above quoted provisions of the Interim Agreement.

Violation of international law
Under international human rights law, a person who is lawfully within a country is entitled to move freely within that country, subject to restrictions necessary to protect national security or public order.

While the intended territorial scope of the “Palestinian Authority only” permit is not clear, the permit apparently does not extend to East Jerusalem and surrounding areas illegally annexed by Israel, nor to other areas of the West Bank not under PNA control (i.e., Area C), nor to Gaza. Denying visitors to Palestine access to 60 percent of its territory cannot be justified by reasons of national security or public order.

The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel-PLO, 28 September 1995, 36 I.L.M.551 (1997) [Interim Agreement].

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 19 December 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force 23 March1976), Art. 12:

“(1) Everyone lawfully with the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence. … (3) The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.”

UN Human Rights Committee, General Comments adopted by the Human Rights Committee under Article 40, Paragraph 4, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9, General Comment No. 27, online:
Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights <>, paras. 13 and 14:

“In adopting laws providing for restrictions permitted by article 12, paragraph 3, States should always be guided by the principle that the restrictions must not impair the essence of the right; the relation between right and restriction, between norm and exception, must not be reversed. … Article 12, paragraph 3, clearly indicates that it is not sufficient that the restrictions serve the permissible purposes; they must also be necessary to protect them.  Restrictive measures must conform to the principle of proportionality; they must be appropriate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve the desired result; and they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected.”

Furthermore, the policy violates the international legal principle that the territorial integrity of a country is to be respected. In this sense, the new policy also contravenes paragraph 1 of Article XI of the Interim Agreement, which states that “[t]he two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.”

Restriction on access to the oPt at Ben Gurion Airport

Violation of the Interim Agreement.  This policy violates the same provisions of the Interim Agreement stated above.

Violation of international law
As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to maintain public order and civil life for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population.  This includes facilitating normal movement to and from the oPt barring certain exceptional circumstances. Arguably, this includes allowing persons wishing to enter the oPt to come through Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, in light of the fact that Israel destroyed Palestine’s only airport and refuses to allow for its rehabilitation and operation.  As such, this policy of denying visitors the opportunity to travel to and within the oPt through Ben Gurion Airport is incompatible with international law.

Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its attached Regulations of 1907, 18 October 1907, U.K.T.S. 9 (1910), Cd. 5030, Art. 43. ANNEX

Text of Declaration Restricting Access to the oPt

I, _________________, citizen of ________________ and holder of passport Number ____________________ hereby declare the following:

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 refusal of entry into Israel for a period of up to ten years.

Name ________________ Signature __________________ Date __________________________

Border ________________ Official’s signature ____________ Official _____________________

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