JERUSALEM, Monday, January 23, 2023 (WAFA) – New Israeli guidelines on access to the West Bank for foreigners threaten to further isolate Palestinians from loved ones and global civil society, Human Rights Watch said today. The guidelines, which came into force in October 2022 and were amended in December 2022, set out detailed procedures for West Bank entry and residency for foreigners, a process distinct from the procedure for entry to Israel.
Israeli authorities have long made it difficult for foreigners to teach, study, volunteer, work, or live in the West Bank. The new guidelines codify and tighten longstanding restrictions, threatening to make it even harder for Palestinians in the West Bank, who already face severe Israeli-imposed movement restrictions, to be with family members who lack a West Bank ID and to engage with foreign students, academics, experts, and others.
“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,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This policy is designed to weaken the social, cultural, and intellectual ties that Palestinians have tried to maintain with the outside world.”
Between July and December 2022, Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 people 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. Human Rights Watch also interviewed Israeli lawyers who have represented those challenging the restrictions. Those interviewed include an American psychologist teaching at a Palestinian university, a British mother of two trying to remain with her Palestinian husband and family, and a Palestinian who has lived most of his life in the West Bank but does not have an ID.
In addition, Israeli authorities in July 2022 denied Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, a permit to enter the West Bank for one week to conduct research and advocacy, citing the army’s broad authority over entry. The Jerusalem District Court upheld the denial in November, following a challenge filed by Shakir and Human Rights Watch.
The 61-page “Procedure for entrance and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria Area [a reference to the West Bank]” replaced a three-page document of procedures first implemented in December 2006. It sets out the Israeli army’s policy and procedures with regard to foreigners who seek to enter solely the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, or to extend a stay for a visit or for a “specific purpose”, for example, to study, teach, volunteer, or work there. The guidelines are distinct from those for entering Israel, which are normally applied at Ben Gurion Airport and other ports of entry. A West Bank permit holder without an Israeli entry visa has no legal authorization to enter Israel, nor occupied East Jerusalem.
While people often visit the West Bank on normal Israeli tourist visas, foreigners on these visas are not permitted to teach, study, volunteer, work, or live in the West Bank. Israeli authorities often deny normal Israel entry visas for these reasons, as well as others known or suspected to engage in pro-Palestinian advocacy. The permit is the only option for many seeking to spend time in the West Bank.
The West Bank guidelines only allow permits to be granted to limited categories of visitors. Some of those eligible for permits, such as the immediate relatives of Palestinians, are eligible to obtain a permit of up to three months upon arrival at the Allenby/King Hussein Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, pending approval by Israeli authorities there. Others, including academics, students, volunteers, and experts, must apply for a West Bank permit, valid for up to one year, from abroad and obtain approval before travel. The previous guidelines recommended, but did not require, pre-coordination, though Israeli authorities often in practice required approval in advance. Other visitors, such as tourists or those seeking to visit extended family or friends or attend a conference, are not eligible for a West Bank permit.
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, Human Rights Watch said.
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.
This necessarily entails living with one’s family. International humanitarian and human rights law both emphasize the importance of the right to family life and unity, including the right to live together. It also means facilitating the work and activities of Palestinian universities, civil society organizations and businesses, and maintaining regular interaction with the rest of the world.
Israel’s restrictions exacerbate the hardship already imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank by the widespread denial of residency rights, the sweeping movement restrictions, and the attacks on Palestinian civil society. The policy deepens the way that Palestinians are fragmented across different areas and furthers Israeli control over Palestinian life. Israeli authorities’ severe repression of Palestinians, committed pursuant to a policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, amounts to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, as Human Rights Watch and major Israeli, Palestinian, and other international human rights groups have found.
“An occupying army has no business determining which professors are qualified to teach at Palestinian universities, blocking human rights defenders from interacting with the occupied population, or cruelly separating families,” Goldstein said. “The US and European states should press Israeli authorities to make it easier, not harder, for people, including their own citizens, to build meaningful connections with West Bank communities.”