In an effort to control the demographic balance in favor of the Jewish
population, Israel is encouraging the emigration of Jews while
preventing family unification amongst Palestinians both in Israel and
in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has frozen the family
unification process and has embarked on an unstated policy of
effectively deporting Palestinians residing the occupied Palestinian
territories on tourist visas.
The problematic policy
Israel is implementing an undeclared policy of denying foreign nationals entry/re-entry into the oPt in order to achieve the following political objectives: to isolate Palestinians, to continue its control over demographics in favor of the Jewish population, and to punish Palestinians personally and developmentally because of the January election results. Israel's security claims regarding this policy are false.
In many cases, this policy amounts to deportation. Many of those now being denied entry are, in fact, residents of the oPT (for family or work reasons). They had achieved this residency status legally (in some cases for decades on end) by relying on a system that Israel allowed in order to avoid giving out permanent or temporary residency status in the oPt. Such people are unable to apply for a permit to re-enter through the Israeli consulates in various countries.
Up until June 2006, this system had allowed foreign nationals to enter on a three-month tourist visa. There were visa-denials then as well (the case of Jordanians has always been especially severe), but they were not applied as systematically as they are now to holders of non-Arab nationality passports. As the visa expiration date neared, such temporary visa holders resorted to exiting and re-entering the oPt, thus gaining an extension. When Israel started implementing this policy at the borders (the announcement in Ma'ariv that gave the first alert of this policy was on 22 June 2006), many of the people who had been following this system for years were caught unawares.
Foreign nationals who are denied entry (whether they are coming in for the first time, or whether they are re-entering) are being told that they must get a permit. However, when they contact the Israeli consulates in their countries (in Jordan, it is also practically impossible simply to get into the Israeli consulate), people quickly discover that there is no such thing to be had. Nationals of various countries who have been denied entry have complained to the consulates of their countries in Israel, but these consulates, though sympathetic, have not been able to do anything.
Available avenues of relief at present
It is possible for foreign nationals working with an international organization registered with the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs to obtain a B-type visa if the organization applies on their behalf two months in advance. It is possible for foreign nationals whose visas have not yet expired (i.e., who are residing in the oPt legally on some sort of visa) to apply for renewal "up to four times" through the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs (the Ministry acts as the conduit of such applications to the Israeli authorities). But beyond that, there is no redress. Many spouses whose children, wives or husbands are now stranded outside the country have tried to get a permit through the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs or the District Coordination Office or Beit El with no avail.
In terms of numbers, the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry in the oPt has documented dozens of cases, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The campaign's contact person for documentation there is Anita Abdullah (firstname.lastname@example.org). B'Tselem estimates that there are 16,000 foreign nationals living with their families "illegally" in the oPt, and are therefore restricted in their movements and travel. This figure gives a sense of the scope of the problem with regard to residency/family unification as it relates to those needing to achieve it in some legal way. B'Tselem also estimates that since the start of the Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli authorities have refused to process 120,000 family unification applications.
Impact and consequences
The policy of denying visas is closely related to family unification, because entering and re-entering on a temporary visa had been a mechanism by which people denied family unification through the limited and restricted procedures that Israel had been imposing could achieve it. In many cases, the spouse being denied entry is the primary bread winner in a family, and that person's job is in the oPt. So the economic burden is heavy.
Additionally, business people who need to reside in the oPt because of job or investment opportunities (as opposed to living with their families and also contributing to the economy) are being denied entry and the required residency.
The same goes for teachers, researchers and students at universities and schools.
In short, Palestinians are being deprived of foreign expertise of any kind unless it comes in an international aid package.
Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.