A Palestinian girl attends a mass wedding in Gaza, July 2016.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
Israeli authorities are making it increasingly difficult for foreign nationals to enter and stay for prolonged periods in the West Bank, in particular those married to Palestinians. At all crossing points, including Ben Gurion Airport and the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the Palestinian territories, among others, Israel exercises full control and thus determines who is allowed in and for how long.
In the past, internationals who came to work for well-known organizations easily received visas which could then be renewed based on the length of their projects. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)—the Israeli military body which administers the West Bank—explained to The Media Line that foreigners who wish to receive entry visas must submit an application and present documents pertaining to their status and the purpose of their visit.
"If they wish to extend the visa, they will have to contact a population registry representative in Ramallah who may extend it for up to one year," COGAT said.
One American citizen, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, confirmed that when she first came to the West Bank she received a one-year visa through an educational institution she was working for. "Before my marriage [to a Palestinian man] I was volunteering at a university in the West Bank. I had applied for a visa through work and it wasn’t a problem at all," she explained.
Thereafter, she elaborated, Israeli authorities granted her visa extensions of three months, on multiple occasions, and then for only one month. Now, she has been made to reapply through the Palestinian Ministry of Interior. "Hopefully I will get a year-long visa this time. It's exhausting and expensive. Each time it can cost us up to two hundred dollars."
She stressed that every time she crosses through Jordan, Israeli border security officers hold her for hours. "They just to ask me the same few questions they've asked me a million times before and to which they already have all the answers," she asserted.
The American described employees in the Palestinian visa department as "utterly useless," as every time she emails them for updates they respond that "they have no power" and refer her back to Israel. "Once I had to travel to Jordan just to cross the border to get a new visa, but it rarely works anymore."
Some other women married to Palestinians who previously received visas for six or more months told The Media Line that they are now being given permits for just over two weeks, which must therefore be renewed repeatedly.
A Palestinian man married to an international woman, who asked The Media Line not to reveal his identity, claimed that Israeli authorities are purposely trying to limit the Palestinian population in the West Bank. "There are many Palestinians married to international citizens and if they can kick them out of Palestine then they achieve their goal of ethnically cleansing the area," he contended. The man further believes that Israel is attempting to impede internationals from entering the West Bank to prevent them from being exposed to "the crimes" being committed against Palestinians.
There are hundreds of families in the West Bank in which one spouse is a foreign citizen, whether from Jordan, Europe, the United States or elsewhere. Some are ethnic Palestinians who were born abroad.
Waleed Wahdan, a Media Advisor at the Palestinian District Coordination Office, which applies for visas on behalf of foreigners and liaises with COGAT, accused Israel of using various methods to deny visas to individuals.
"Sometimes they use stupid excuses while other times they delay the process indefinitely until the applicants lose their status and are then deported," he told The Media Line. "Israeli officials don't care about the Palestinians, they don’t want us to bring experts from abroad and they don’t want the internationals to become pro-Palestine."
A similar trend applies to international activists, who say they are being blocked from obtaining and renewing their visas, with some even receiving ten-year bans from entering Israel.
"Before I came to Palestine, my friends advised me not to show any support for Palestinians on social media," one foreigner told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. "They even told me to lie about where I live and the purpose of my visit, even to say something stupid about wanting to experience the nightlife."
Israel also determines which foreigners married to Palestinians receive resident status and since 2009 has greatly minimized the so-called family reunification process, which is now only possible under special humanitarian circumstances.
"In one interview at the behest of Israeli authorities," a family living in the West Bank revealed to The Media Line, "we were asked questions mainly of a political nature and only a few questions about our relationship." The investigators then asked the couple to provide pictures proving their marital status but subsequently refused to recognize their Islamic contract.
"They were racist and their questions were way out of context," the husband affirmed. "I felt like they were trying to use me to get information about other matters. And then they only gave my wife a one-month visa."