Center for the Defence of the Individual - HaMoked to the Minister of Defense: The revised procedure for the entry of foreigners to the oPt is still fundamentally flawed and must be frozen until it is amended
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HaMoked to the Minister of Defense: The revised procedure for the entry of foreigners to the oPt is still fundamentally flawed and must be frozen until it is amended

On September 13, 2022, HaMoked, via Atty. Yotam Ben-Hillel, sent a letter to the Minister of Defense, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and the Military’s 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 and publish it also in Arabic.

This is a 97-page-long new procedure which is supposed to replace the current 4-page “Procedure for the Entry of Foreigners to the Areas of Judea and Samaria”. It will govern all entry of foreigners  solely to the West Bank (it does not apply to visitors who travel to both the West Bank and Israel). The new procedure was first published in February 2022. The military postponed its entry into effect to early July 2022, in order to consider objections submitted by HaMoked and others. In the absence of a response and with the date of entry into effect fast approaching, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) on June 23, 2022, to demand its complete overhaul. On June 29, 2022, the State informed the Court that it had postponed the procedure’s entry into effect to September 5, 2022, "as the Respondents have not yet taken a decision regarding all the objections made regarding this procedure". On July 18, 2022, the Court rejected the petition out of hand as "premature", given that the competent authority had not yet reached a final decision on the matter. On September 4, 2022, COGAT published an updated version of the procedure, now set to enter into effect on October 20, 2022. This version contains a few substantive improvements – most notably removal of the annual quotas of 150 students and 100 lectures set in the first draft. However, most of the flaws remain and some even exacerbated, including the effective ban on entry into the oPt via the Ben Gurion international airport.

In its letter, HaMoked reasserted that the new procedure is highly restrictive and needlessly hampers the entry of foreign passport holders to the oPt and their ability to stay there without interruption. The procedure would harm thousands of families where one of the spouses is 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.  All this, without any legal basis or reasonable grounds, and contrary to Israel’s obligation to act for the benefit of the protected population living under occupation.

Harm to West Bank families where one spouse is a foreign national:

This part of the procedure remains fundamentally as it was in the first version published in February, with its numerous flaws. 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.  Remaining in the oPt beyond that period would  only be possible if the couple submitted a request for residency status in the oPt (“regularization request”), provided the request has been transferred by the Palestinian Authority to Israel – which in practice does not happen. The procedure even states that even if applicants meet the requirements for status in the oPt, Israel is not obligated to approve their requests, and would consider them according to general policy considerations. Additionally, foreign spouses would be barred from applying for any other type of long-term visa, such as student, lecturer, volunteer or foreign expert visas, and effectively denied the possibility to study or make a living in the oPt, where they live with their families.

The revised procedure’s flaws regarding entry visas for various purposes:

As in the previous version, the revised procedure establishes very narrow categories of foreigners who may receive visit visas to the oPt. Tourist visas for family visits are limited to spouses and “immediate” relatives, and so it seems grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, in-laws and so on would be denied entry, including those who were born in the oPt. The procedure does not allow visits to the oPt for tourists, pilgrims, friends of people from the oPt, foreign journalists working for Palestinian media outlets, and people arriving for short-term purposes, including academics, artists, athletes and others.

The revised procedure will severely infringe on the academic freedom of Palestinian universities and impact the entirety of the education system in the oPt. Under the procedure, COGAT assumes powers which are part of the PA’s jurisdiction, and prevents education institutions from freely recruiting foreign faculty and students. Under the revised procedure, lecturers and researchers must be over age 25 and have PhDs or “unique expertise in their field”, to be determined by COGAT. Upon the expiry of the 27-month-long dedicated visa, lecturers would have to leave the oPt and could reapply for a visa only after a 9-month-period of absence from the oPt. Moreover, returning lecturers would be allowed to stay in the oPt for a cumulative maximum period of 5 years only.

Similarly, unreasonable limitations apply to the entry of students pursuing higher education in the oPt: applicant students may have to undergo an interview at an Israeli consulate in their country of origin; they would have to leave the oPt after 27 months in order to apply from abroad for a new visa and more.

The revised procedure all but completely blocks the possibility of volunteering in the oPt, in the field of education and otherwise, and it still contains provisions that would impact the Palestinian economy and make it harder for companies and organizations to employ foreign staff. People seeking a dedicated visa would have to attach to their visa application an invasive “questionnaire” on their curriculum vita and family ties in the oPt, and those who invite them would have to provide an official invitation from the PA, without any substantive reason for either demand.

The revised procedure also establishes problematic criteria for extending visas. COGAT, for example, is authorized to consider whether an invited person such as an expert worker, lecturer or student, is “needed” by the institution or company that applied to extend their visa, and this constitutes an infringement of the right to free choice of employment and academic freedom in the oPt. The procedure also allows refusing a visa-extension request on the grounds of “risk of becoming entrenched in the Area” – which constitutes another prohibited consideration by the occupier concerning the occupied territory. In addition, the procedure does not allow issuance of a multiple-entry visa in many cases, including that of foreign spouses, other relatives of oPt residents, journalists and others. This would obligate such people to leave the oPt in order to apply for reentry.

The procedure also authorizes COGAT to set prohibitively high security guarantees for entry into the oPt, of up to NIS 70,000 (approx. US$ 20,000), as a condition for receiving a visa for the oPt, but no clear guidelines have been set for doing so. 

Discriminatory exclusion from the procedure:

The revised procedure still contains the complete exclusion of citizens of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrein and South Sudan, despite these being countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Israel. Instead, holders of passports from these countries are referred to apply for a permit pursuant to the “Procedure for Issuance of Permits for Foreign Visitors to the Palestinian Authority”, under which permits are issued only in “exceptional and humanitarian cases”. This draconian and discriminatory exclusion applies also to dual nationals and the revised version even extends this exclusion to people “born” in one of these five countries. The exclusion means that such people are denied the possibility to live with their Palestinian spouses and children in the oPt, and can neither work, volunteer nor teach there.

In view of the numerous flaws of the procedure and its harsh ramifications, HaMoked demanded that the procedure be frozen until it is fundamentally revised to uphold the basic rights of the Palestinian population.

* COGAT responded to HaMoked’s objections on October 20, 2022. COGAT claimed that, in fact, the new procedure “constitutes a substantial improvement" in the situation and that for the first time, the procedure clearly and publically regulated various aspects of the entry of foreigners to the West Bank and also expanded the categories for such entry. The response stated that the procedure was defined as a pilot program for two years, during which time its implementation would be reviewed and amended as necessary, also with regards to HaMoked’s concerns. In passing, it was also noted that “the Military Commander has no obligation to allow entry of foreigners to the Area [i.e. the West Bank]”. In closing, COGAT rejected HaMoked’s demand to delay the procedure coming into force.