Israel to tighten West Bank entry restrictions with new policy

The National  /  May 5, 2022

This will affect foreigners who marry Palestinians or those who come to work, volunteer, study or teach.

A new policy to heavily regulate entry into the West Bank is to be introduced this year.

The wide-ranging policy, to be introduced by COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, imposes new restrictions on foreigners who marry Palestinians or who come to the West Bank to work, volunteer, study or teach.

It further extends Israel’s nearly 55-year military rule into nearly every corner of Palestinian life.

The rules do not apply to people visiting Israel or the more than 130 Jewish settlements scattered across the West Bank.

“It’s outrageous that the Israeli military thinks it can micromanage Palestinian society to this extent, to decide who’s qualified to teach at a university, who is entitled to have foreign volunteers,” Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights group HaMoked, told AP.

Her group filed a legal petition with lengthy objections to the policy, leading Israeli authorities to delay its implementation from May 20 until early July.

COGAT said the procedures formalize the application process and expand the “range of permitted purposes for entering the area”. It said the procedures are part of a two-year pilot and that “certain parts” are already being re-assessed.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, while Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett considers it the historical heartland of the Jewish people.

Palestinians from abroad who wish to visit the West Bank would have to list the names and ID numbers of family members — and say whether they themselves own property in the West Bank or stand to inherit any. Many fear that could pave the way for their land to be seized by settlers.

“It’s like you’re informing on your own family or friends that you visit. You could be giving information that would pave the way for Israel to steal your property,” said Ahmed Abofoul, an international lawyer with the Al-Haq human rights group.

The policy would limit the number of visiting professors to 100 and the number of students to 150. A visiting lecturer would need to convince an Israeli military official that she “contributes significantly to academic learning, to the area’s economy, or to advancing regional co-operation and peace,” the policy says.

In 2020, 366 European students and faculty members secured grants to study or teach in the West Bank through the EU’s Erasmus+ exchange program. More than 1,800 Israelis studied in Europe under the same program that year. The EU representative office in Jerusalem declined to comment on the new procedures.

COGAT said the quotas apply to teachers and students who want to stay longer than one term, and will be “re-evaluated from time to time.”

Nearly all foreigners, including those in the private sector, would be forced to leave after 27 months and then wait another nine months before re-applying for entry.

They would be limited to a total of five years in the territory, making long-term employment virtually impossible. Volunteers approved by the Israeli military could come for 12 months, but would then have to wait another year before applying for re-entry.