RAMALLAH – Becoming a citizen of a country ordinarily comes with a passport.
Last year, the United Nations recognized “Palestine” as a non-member state, but
many of its citizens say it doesn’t make traveling easier.
Palestinian passport, which was issued in 1995 and was based on the Oslo Accords
reached between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation
Organization, is essentially a travel document and does not stipulate that its
owner is a citizen of Palestine. The document's cover reads "the Palestinian
Authority," not "Palestine." While Palestinians have changed the formal
letterhead on many of their official documents from "the Palestinian Authority"
to "Palestine," they continue to hold Palestinian Authority (PA) passports
because Israel does not recognize the name Palestine.
The PA passport is
available to any individual who can present a birth certificate showing he/she
was born in Palestine; he/she must also hold a current Palestinian identity
card. All Palestinians residing in the areas under PA rule are entitled to a
Palestinian Authority passport. However, those Palestinians living in East
Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, can only hold a laissez-passer, the
travel document issued to them by Israel. If they wish to travel to Arab
countries that don't recognize Israel, they usually apply for a temporary
Jordanian passport. Some Palestinians simply use a Jordanian passport for all of
their travel. Qasam Hamayel, a 25-year-old government employee with a
Palestinian passport, tried to obtain a visa to go to Holland three years ago,
but failed. He said he had all the documents that officials there
"After I was invited by the Dutch government I was asked to
present documents to prove that I was a student. I had a bank account, health
insurance, and a return ticket but after a month they denied my application." A
letter justified the visa rejection on the basis that Hamayel didn't provide
proof that he would return to the Palestinian territories. "They said that the
Palestinians were recognized as an Authority, but not as a country so they
couldn't deport me back if I stayed there illegally," he added.
months ago, Hamayel’s friend Ahmed Omar was also denied a visa to Holland, which
means that the new Palestinian state status has so far not translated into fewer
limitations on Palestinian movement.
In general, the UN recognition of
Palestine as a non-member state last year has not led to great changes in the
daily lives of Palestinians. Nevertheless, some countries have taken steps to
acknowledge the new status by opening embassies – and other countries, such as
Brazil, have even changed the name on their visa stamp from the "Palestinian
Territories" to "Palestine." Kuwait has recently opened its first Palestinian
embassy, and it allows Palestinians to enter Kuwait using their Palestinian
For Fadi Abu Sa’da, a journalist, having an embassy doesn’t
have much meaning. “I was denied a visa to enter Kuwait three times,” he said.
Abu Sa’da had hoped to attend the Arab Media Forum, of which he is a board
member, two years ago in Kuwait. He made efforts to apply via the forum itself,
via a travel agency, and via Kuwaiti officials, all to no
Palestinian-Kuwaiti relations have been strained ever since the
First Gulf War, when the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat supported
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. “I wasn’t given a justification or a clear answer,
but I believe we are still being punished for Arafat’s position”, Abu Sa’da told
The Media Line. Palestinians who lived in Kuwait held Jordanian passports. After
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, Palestinians living there
continued to have the right to apply for Jordanian passports. Palestinian
refugees actually living in Jordan were also considered full Jordanian citizens.
But in July 1988, Jordan severed all legal and administrative ties with the West
Bank. Palestinians who were living in Jordan at the time remained Jordanian
citizens, but West Bank residents lost that status.
A source at the
Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affars told The Media Line that some countries
fear that anyone visiting from a third-world country, including Palestinians,
will want to stay.
However, some states, particularly the Gulf States may
not want a large influx of Palestinians for “security” reasons. Palestinian
Deputy Minister of the Interior Hassan Alawi, denies that Palestinians are
singled out for discrimination.
The Foreign Ministry source said that
there is slow but steady progress being made on the passport issue. Governmental
officials in Palestine say as more countries begin to work with them on an
official basis, the process will improve. “As we don’t have control of our
borders, we can’t sign mutual agreements with other countries. We can’t tell
Lebanese officials that we will let their citizens in our areas if they do the
same for us,” Alawi told The Media Line.
Obtaining a visa for other
countries is also complicated for Palestinians. There are no specific
explanations or guidelines as to which countries deny or allow Palestinians
visas but many Palestinians express frustration when it comes to gaining access
Shaker Garabedian of George Garabedian Tourist and Travel Bureau
told The Media Line that Jordan is the only country that allows Palestinians to
enter its territory without a visa. He also said that Palestinians stopped
applying for visas to the Gulf States because they know they won’t get them.
“Also, visas for Palestinians are more expensive. A Jordanian pays $130 to go to
Dubai, while a Palestinian pays $250, if the visa is granted”, Garabedian
All other countries require visa applications months in advance,
and without any guarantee of success. An individual needs to start the process a
minimum of 20 days before his/her departure date. Documents verifying health,
employment, and even purchased round-trip tickets are mandatory in order to
apply for visas to travel to other countries.
continue to exist, even with the presence of the Palestinian passport, some
existing loopholes have facilitated the granting of visa applications. For
example, Palestinians are not technically eligible for an official US visa, as
the PLO is still listed as a terrorist organization in the United States.
Nevertheless, a waiver often enables them to receive visas. Such waivers have
helped ease restrictions on Palestinians wishing to visit the United States, and
there is hope that other countries will begin to make it easier for Palestinians
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org