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Israel cracks down on American travel to West Bank by requiring tourists to obtain military permit

Mardi, 28 mai 2013 - 14h48

Tuesday 28 May 2013



By Alex Kane

Israeli authorities have implemented another way to impede free access to the occupied Palestinian territories for American travelers.

Haaretz’s Amira Hass reported over the weekend that Israel is now forbidding “tourists from the United States and other countries to enter the territories under Palestinian Authority control without a military entry permit – but it has not explained the application process to them.”

Hass’s report was published as opposition mounts to the Senate bill that grants Israelis visa-free travel to the U.S. while also codifying Israel’s practice of denying U.S. travelers entry on the basis of security concerns. That Senate bill exposes a galling aspect of the "special relationship." All the military aid and diplomatic support to Israel doesn’t shield Americans from being routinely discriminated against based on their political affiliations or ethnic background. And Israel can count on the U.S. not putting up a fight. Having the whole Congress behind you means never having to think twice about these actions.

The policy Hass exposes is yet another example of Israeli authorities’ free reign at border crossings, which includes detaining, interrogating and deporting Americans.

Here are some of the details in the Haaretz report: Christian clerics from the United States told Hass they can’t go meet Palestinians in the West Bank because they signed an official Israeli declaration at Ben-Gurion Airport stating that they need a special military permit to visit those areas. (Their mistake, apparently, was that they were honest about wanting to visit the West Bank.) The catch is that the Israeli authorities wouldn’t explain to them how to get these permits.

Hass provides the text of the document the Christian clerics signed:

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

Americans wishing to visit illegal settlements in the West Bank do not have to sign such a document, an Israeli attorney told Hass.

It’s another element of Israel’s crackdown on foreign travel in occupied Palestine. In January 2013, Hass reported that Israel renewed restrictions on foreigners already living in the West Bank by stamping their passports with the words “Judea and Samaria.” The move, which was first revealed by the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, aims to prohibit foreigners in the West Bank—some of whom are Palestinians who lived abroad or people who married Palestinians—from visiting East Jerusalem or Israel.

The report on the Christian clerics notes that the practice of requiring tourists wishing to go to the West Bank to sign a declaration “was discontinued and renewed only at the beginning of this year.” But I had to sign a similar declaration—perhaps not exactly the same one—in January 2011.

The background to why I had to sign an Israeli government document stating I would not go to the areas under the Palestinian Authority’s control begins in early 2010.

I had joined a small delegation part of the larger Gaza Freedom March and entered the besieged territory to spend a few days there. Afterwards, I naively thought it was a good idea to try to enter Israel through the Taba border crossing to make my way to the other part of occupied Palestine I had not seen. I was denied entry; my assumption is that it was because I had been to Gaza.

The next year, I flew into Ben-Gurion Airport to join a human rights delegation traveling through the West Bank. I had arrived with a brand new passport, but it was to no avail: Israeli authorities detained me at the airport and held me for a good five hours. They immediately knew I had been to Gaza in the past and wanted to go to the West Bank, and so I admitted that fact after initially concealing it. I was questioned by an Israeli official who told me he was a Ministry of Defense employee. He mentioned the word terrorism and wanted to know who I met with in Gaza. He asked me to write down the names of who I was going to meet with in the West Bank; I scribbled down some names but nothing that would truly reveal my friends.

The interrogation occurred within the first hour I was there, and then four slow hours passed by with no word from Israeli authorities. At that point I was steeling myself for the experience of deportation. But eventually, they asked me to come into a separate room. They furnished a piece of paper with a declaration similar to the one that the Christian clerics Hass reports on had to sign. I looked it over; by then I was desperate to get out of Ben-Gurion. It said that I will agree not to enter areas that the Palestinian Authority controlled. I signed it. And then I made my way to Ramallah—there was no way for Israel to enforce the declaration I put my name on.

My experience could have been much worse; my whiteness probably had a lot to do with why I was not deported. It was a very tiny slice of what people like Nour Joudah went through. And the Senate bill being pushed by Barbara Boxer will give a red, white and blue seal of approval to the Israeli crackdown on U.S. travel to the West Bank—which means that we can expect many more stories like Joudah’s and the Christian clerics’, with the U.S. not doing a thing about it.

About Alex Kane
Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
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