Center for the Defence of the Individual - HaMoked petitioned the HCJ against the new military procedure governing foreigners’ entry into and stay in the West Bank: the procedure severely harms Palestinians’ right to family life
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חזרה לעמוד הקודם

HaMoked petitioned the HCJ against the new military procedure governing foreigners’ entry into and stay in the West Bank: the procedure severely harms Palestinians’ right to family life

On May 10, 2023, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) on behalf of West Bank Palestinian families where one spouse is a foreign national to demand fundamental revision of the “Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area” (sic). The procedure, which entered into effect on October 20, 2022, governs all aspects of the entry into the West Bank of citizens of countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Israel, as well as their residence and the legalization of their status there. The procedure is unreasonably harsh and restrictive, harming not only the right to family life, but also, among other things, local academic institutions and the Palestinian economy.  

The procedure was first published on February 2022 and in June HaMoked filed a High Court petition challenging its restrictions on foreign nationals wishing to teach, study, volunteer or work in the West Bank, as well as the restrictions on family life. This petition was rejected as “premature”, and in September an amended version was published with a few improvements. The current petition, filed over six months after the procedure’s entry into effect, is filed together with eight Palestinian families and focuses on the extensive harm the procedure causes to their human rights. HaMoked argues that the procedure entrenches Israel’s illegal policy which subjects the basic right to family life to its own national interests in the case of Palestinians who are married to foreign nationals. This is stated explicitly in the procedure: “No application for formalization [i.e., permanent status pursuant to family unification in the oPt] will be approved unless it is consistent with the guidelines from the [Israeli] political echelon, including cases in which there are no vacancies in the quota”.   

The petitioners clarified that under international law, Israeli military policy and conduct regarding the occupied territory may only be based on considerations relating to security necessity or the welfare of the protected population. The military must not formulate procedures based on interests of the Israeli government, concerning immigration or otherwise. Furthermore, under both Israeli and international law, family life is recognized as a basic right constituting part of a person’s autonomy.  The petitioners emphasised that in the framework of the Oslo Accords, family ties were determined to warrant the grant of status in the oPt and that the power to review requests in the matter was given to the Palestinian Authority, with Israel given the authority to give them final approval. However, after the second intifada broke out, Israel stopped accepting such requests from the Palestinian Authority and suspended the processing of those already accepted. Israel similarly froze the handling of requests for long-term visit visas. Israel now only grants oPt status or a visitor’s visa in “exceptional humanitarian” cases, according to undisclosed criteria it has unilaterally set. What is clear is that Israel does not consider forced separation of spouses or a parent from their child as an “exceptional humanitarian” case warranting status or a visa.

Over the years and following HaMoked petitions, Israel agreed in 2008 to examine a quota of 50,000 requests for permanent status in the oPt, following which, it approved at least 23,000 requests in following years. However thousands of requests remained unanswered.

The new procedure establishes the possibility to deny requests to legalize status for family unification purposes, unconnected to the specific circumstances of the applicants, on the grounds of “no available quota”. As a result, foreign family members of oPt residents are forced to live long periods of time subject to a restrictive and harsh visa regime, which forces them to exit the oPt frequently under the shadow of inevitable uncertainty regarding the possibility of their return to their homes in the oPt, and also without real hope that their status would be arranged in the foreseeable future. Additionally, it seems that in the new procedure, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) seized further powers of the Palestinian Authority, including the examination of the genuineness of the marital tie, the spouses’ center of life and more. As if this were not enough, a spouse whose request for status is denied, can reapply only after five whole years have passed, a stipulation which spells further excessive and unjustified harm to the right to family life.

The petition details additional severe flaws in the procedure, including the very narrow categories for issuing visas to visit the oPt, spelling the effective ban on visits of grandparents, grandchildren and sisters/brothers-in-law of oPt residents, as well as visits of the parents and siblings of the foreign spouse; visit visas are valid for three months only and may be extended only in exceptional circumstances and for just three more months, instead of two years, as was the case previously – this means inevitable disruptions to the life of oPt families where one of the spouses or a child are foreign nationals, especially as the procedure stipulates that visa extension requests may be denied due to “the risk of becoming entrenched in [i.e., relocation to] the Area”; drastic limitation of the possibility for foreigners to enter the oPt via Ben Gurion International Airport, in gave breach of the Oso Accords and despite the fact the Israel prevents the establishment of any direct flight routes to the West Bank; the option to require payment of high guarantees for entry to the oPt, without clear criteria; very limited criteria for issuance of multi-entry visas to the oPt; compelling those who fail the criteria to leave the oPt to reapply for a new visa and those who do meet the criteria to apply for such a visa while away from the oPt and 45 days in advance; no provision of the reasons for refusal to extend visas and no immediate response to an objection in the matter; and prohibition on foreign spouses to receive dedicated visas for work, studies or volunteering in the oPt.

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