On March 23, 2022, HaMoked, via Atty. Yotam Ben-Hilel, sent a letter to the Minister of Defense, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and the Military Legal Advisor of the West Bank demanding they revise the “Procedure for Entry and Residence of Foreigners in the Judea and Samaria Area [i.e., the West Bank]”, and postpone its entry into effect until they make such revisions. This is a new procedure which supposed to replace the “Procedure for the Entry of Foreigners to the Areas of Judea and Samaria”, as of May 20, 2022. The new procedure is highly restrictive and needlessly hampers the entry of foreign passport holders to the oPt, their ability to extend their visas and to arrange their permanent status there. The procedure would harm thousands of families where one of the spouses in a foreign national. It would disrupt the routine functioning of education and academic institutions, and prevent many foreign passport holders from working, volunteering or studying in the oPt, damaging the local economy and society.
Among other things, the procedure sets extreme limitations on the duration of visas, and in many cases prevents the grant of multiple-entry visas, which would compel a person to exit the oPt in order to reapply for a visa. The procedure would have harsh implications for spouses of Palestinians who live together in the oPt. Visas to spouses would only be valid for three months, and could then be extended for an additional three months at the most – whereas under the current procedure, visas can be extended for up to two years. The procedure prevents spouses from living together without disruption, because it sets a “cooling off period” of six months before the foreign spouse may reapply for a visa after their exit from the oPt. Moreover, in the new procedure, Israel takes upon itself the authority, which under the Oslo Accords was given to the Palestinian Authority, to approve requests by foreign spouses for residency status in the oPt. According to this procedure: “No regularization request is to be approved, if it is not in line with the guidelines of the [Israeli] poitical echelon...”. The new procedure has no provision for enabling visits of relatives of oPt residents, including siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, nor for foreign journalists working for Palestinian media outlets and others.
The procedure will severely infringe the academic freedom of Palestinian universities, and harm their ability to choose their faculty. Among other things, the procedure requires that lecturers have a master’s degree at the very least, and prohibits them from teaching two semester courses in the same year. The procedure also stipulates that a special 27-month-long permit in the category of excellent lecturer or researcher will only be given if COGAT has been persuaded that the applicant would make “a significant contribution to the academic education, the economy of the Area or to the promotion of cooperation and regional peace”, in which case the period of stay would be limited to five years at the most. Moreover, as it is now worded, the procedure apparently completely bans lecturers and researchers who are not determined to be “excellent” from working in the oPt at all, as well as teachers in non-higher education institutions. Severe limitations would apply to foreign students: the procedure sets an annual quota of 150 student visas, and applicant students would have to undergo an interview at an Israeli consulate in their country of origin. Severe limitations also would apply to foreign passport holders seeking to volunteer or work in the oPt.
It shoud be noted that this procedure would not apply to foreigners who wish to travel to Israeli settlements in the oPt. For example, foreign lecturers and students at Ariel University in the Ariel settlement will continue to be governed by regulations set by Israel’s Ministry of Interior.
The letter enumerates many other flaws in the procedure, including the complete exclusion of citizens of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrein and South Soudan, despite these being countries who maintain diplomatic ties with Israel. Instead, holders of passports from these countries are to be referred to apply for a permit under the “Procedure for Issuance of Permits for Foreign Visitors to the Palestinian Authority”, under which permits are issued only in “exceptional and humanitarian cases”. The draconian and discriminatory exclusion applies also to dual nationals; for example, a holder of passports from the U.S. and Jordan would be considered solely as a Jordanian for the purposes of this procedure, even if the person actually holds a temporary Jordanian passport, which does not afford Jordanian citizenship. The new procedure also sets extremely high deposits for entry into the oPt, up to the sum of NIS 70,000, without establishing clear criteria for doing so.
On April 27, 2022, in its response to a petition filed via Atty. Ben-Hillel, the State announced that the procedure’s entry into effect had been postponed by 45 days, to allow consideration of the objections submitted by HaMoked and others.