Israel's new West Bank entry rules decide 'who is a Palestinian', say critics

Israel's new West Bank entry rules decide 'who is a Palestinian', say critics
5 min read
West Bank
04 May, 2022
"This discrimination is aimed specifically at Palestinians, which is not written in the rules, but they impact the lives of Palestinians in a particular way, and it is obvious when the rules are applied," said critics.
Israel controls all border crossings to the occupied West Bank. [Getty]

Israel is "dictating who can be Palestinian", according to human rights activists who have criticised the new Israeli "rules of movement" imposed on foreigners and on Palestinians who do not have a residency permit in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

The new rules were published in a 97-page-long document, which replaces the currently-effective 4-page document, and are to become effective starting 22 May. 

The move impacts thousands of Palestinians who have not yet obtained the right to a family reunion and have to leave the country regularly in order to avoid the consequences of an expired visa.

According to the Oslo accords, Palestinians in the diaspora can apply for family reunion only through the Palestinian Authority's civil affairs ministry, which in turn sends applications to Israel. However, it is Israel that allows family reunions and therefore the issuing of Palestinian ID cards.

Earlier in April, Israel allowed family reunion for some 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

On the other hand, the new "rules of movement" are expected to further complicate the process for remaining Palestinians, some of whom have been living as foreigners in their country for many years.

"My children have grown up under this situation, it is part of our lives now," N.K, a Palestinian in his late forties who asked not to be named, told The New Arab.

"My wife is Palestinian, her family is from the same village as mine, but she has lived since her childhood in the US and doesn't have a Palestinian ID," he said.

"For over twenty years we have tried to build our family in Palestine, but she can't stay more than 27  months in a row, which means she has to leave the country and spend weeks, sometimes up to a month before trying to enter again with a new visa," N.K added. "Our application for a family reunion is somewhere between the Palestinian and Israeli offices, as our lives go by. It's frustrating."

"It won't be days or weeks that non-residents will have to wait before entering again anymore, but from six to nine months according to the new rules," a volunteer in the Right To Enter campaign, who asked not to be named, explained to The New Arab.

"The Israeli entry system had received some international criticism recently for not having clear criteria," the volunteer said. "We think this is one of the reasons for the issuing of the new rules, which only make things worse."

"For instance, the new rules explicitly state that the claim of family reunion is not a valid reason for granting entry or residency, which is a clear denial of a basic human right," the volunteer said. "Israel is basically deciding who can be a Palestinian."

"Based on human rights law and international humanitarian law, Palestinians have the right to family life, and Israel has the obligation [as the occupying power] to promote the welfare of the Palestinian population," Daniel Shenhar, a lawyer for the Israeli human rights group "Hamoked", who represents several Palestinian families applying for a family reunion, said to The New Arab.

"What is most disturbing for me is the Israeli military's insistence on micromanaging Palestinian society," said Shenhar.

"Which Palestinian institutions can employ foreigners or take volunteers? The Israeli military thinks it should decide. What are the qualifications for lecturers in Palestinian universities? Again the Israeli military has decided," he said.

"In fact, the Israeli military decides who is a Palestinian, because of its control over the Palestinian population registry and its denial of family unification," he noted.

Among the restrictions, non-residents seeking entry have to declare if they have family,  property or inheritance in the West Bank, in addition to making a US$ 21,000 deposit that would be returned after "compliance with the terms of the residence permit has been verified, or the foreigner has departed".

For some legal critics, these rules are a form of "de-facto annexation".

"It is rather an assertion of Israeli control of the Palestinian population, rather than a direct form of annexation because Israel already controls the West Bank," Wessam Ahmed, senior researcher at the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, told The New Arab.

"Israel feels it is able to dictate  to Palestinians who can and who can't enter, which is an extension of Israel's broader policy of annexation and control," he stressed. "

"But beyond the question of annexation, there is a bigger picture of Israel's continued assertion of domination of the Palestinian people, which is part of its broader colonial policy," he added.

"Israel's new rules do not treat the West Bank as if it was Israel," insists the volunteer of the Right To Enter Campaign. "Foreigners can enter Israel much easier than non-resident Palestinians and foreigners can enter the West Bank, it is a discriminatory policy."

"This discrimination is aimed specifically at Palestinians, which is not written in the rules, but they impact the lives of Palestinians in a particular way, and it is obvious when the rules are applied. In fact, the non-written rules are the most dangerous part of this policy," the volunteer concluded.