In recent months, a number of foreigners worried about new measures that will be implemented Monday to limit entry and residence to the West Bank have flocked to the office of lawyer Rasem Kamal in Ramallah.
These measures, published in February, target foreigners wishing to reside, work, study or engage in voluntary activity in the West Bank occupied by Israel since 1967. They will also affect a large number of students under the “Erasmus” program.
Implementation of these measures has been postponed twice due to the objection of 19 plaintiffs to the Israeli Supreme Court. Among those who have challenged it is the Israeli human rights organization Hamoked, which describes it as “extremely restrictive” and imposes “intrusive and vague criteria.”
Hence, any foreigner who wants to enter the West Bank will not be able to obtain a visa on arrival in Israel and will have to request it 45 days in advance and determine if he has a first-degree family in the West Bank and whether he owns or may inherit land.
Foreigners will no longer be able to enter through Tel Aviv airport, except in exceptional cases, and they must enter through the King Hussein Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank and the crossing controlled by Israel.
The new procedures, which are 97 pages in some cases, impose a guarantee of up to seventy thousand shekels (about 20,000 euros), as well as for the visa holder to spend several months outside the West Bank before obtaining a second visa.
Since the new rules were published, foreigners working in the West Bank have gone to the office of lawyer Rasem Kamal, he told AFP, explaining, “They know that when the rules are applied, their ability to come will be restricted” and they want to obtain a power of attorney for their Palestinian relatives.
The Israeli human rights organization Hamoked says the new procedures put “strict restrictions on extending visas and in most cases a person has to leave and stay abroad, and it may be a year in some cases before they can apply for a new visa.”
“This will have a direct impact on the wives and husbands of foreign Palestinians who will have to leave when their visas expire, depriving thousands of Palestinian families of the right to live together without interruption and to lead a normal family life,” she added.
The Israeli organization condemns these measures, noting that “requests for a visa may be rejected without justification.”
“These brutal measures will also have a serious impact on humanitarian action,” says Canadian doctor Benjamin Thompson, director of the “Keys to Health” humanitarian project and one of the petitioners to the Supreme Court.
“The new laws will prevent many health professionals from entering the West Bank,” he told AFP, denouncing the “uncertainty” looming over the granting and renewal of visas for his organization that trains Palestinian doctors.
In response to a question by AFP, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories (COGAT) unit of the Israeli Defense Ministry explained that its procedures should make it possible to manage visa applications “in a more efficient manner and more adaptive to the changing circumstances at the present time.”
Kogat said that for the “first time” the entry conditions for professors, students and other residents were clearly explained, noting that these procedures will be tested for a period of two years.
The new policy was criticized even by the European Commission due to the quotas imposed on university professors (150 per year) and foreign students (100) who attend Palestinian universities. In 2020, 366 European students and professors attended these institutions.
EU Education Commissioner Maria Gabriel said in July that the restrictions run counter to the objectives of the Erasmus+ exchange programme.
She stressed that “while Israel benefits greatly from the Erasmus + program, the Commission believes that it should facilitate, not hinder, students’ access to Palestinian universities,” while directing 1,803 Israeli students and professors to European universities in 2020.
Jessica Montell, director of Hammocked, stated that Israel, as an “occupying power” in the West Bank, could justify any measures in the name of protecting its own security and “for the well-being of the local population”, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
But she added that the new measures “have nothing to do with either,” noting that they are aimed at “restricting the growth of the Palestinian population through family unification” and preventing the “establishment of the presence” of foreigners in the territories of 2.9 million Palestinians who live in 475,000 Israeli settlers.