Israel’s military introduces rules for foreigners in West Bank

Soraya Ebrahimi

The National  /  September 5, 2022

After criticism of rules in an earlier draft, Israel removes some of its more controversial requirements.

Israel extended its control of daily life and movement in and out of the West Bank on Sunday after its military agency released a list of rules and restriction for foreigners in Palestinian areas.

COGAT, the Israeli agency in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs, removed controversial restrictions that appeared in a draft of the rules published this year, such as a requirement that people who form romantic relationships with local Palestinians register with Israeli authorities.

“The Israeli military is proposing new restrictions in order to isolate Palestinian society from the outside world and keep Palestinian families from living together,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group that has challenged the rules in court.

“In response to criticism they have removed the most outrageous elements. Yet they are keeping the basic structure of this very invasive and harmful procedure in place.”

The rules are set to go into effect on October 20.

The wide-ranging policy imposes rules on foreigners who marry Palestinians or who come to the West Bank to work, volunteer, study or teach.

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

Israel captured the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. They are territories Palestinians seek for an independent state.

The initial draft included a requirement that a foreigner who forms a serious romantic relationship with a local Palestinian notify the Israeli military within 30 days of the “start of the relationship”, defined as an engagement, wedding or moving in together.

The 30-day notice was removed from Sunday’s rules. But it still says that if a foreigner starts a relationship with a Palestinian, “the appointed COGAT official must be informed as part of their request to renew or extend the existing visa”.

The new rules also dropped earlier limits on the number of foreign students and teachers allowed to study or work in the West Bank. The amount of time they can stay in the territory was also lengthened.

Yet COGAT continues to hold great discretion over who is allowed in. It must approve the academic credentials of a university lecturer invited by a Palestinian institution, and holds the right to screen students if there is “suspicion of misuse” of a visa.

Tough restrictions on foreign spouses of Palestinians also remain in place. Spouses are only entitled to short-term visits and can be required to deposit up to 70,000 shekels (about $20,000) to guarantee they will leave the territory.

The new rules offer some potential relief for foreign spouses, including a longer-term visa of 27 months that can be renewed and include several visits in and out of the territory.

It also drops a previous “cooling off” period that required spouses to leave for lengthy periods between visas.

But these new and improved visas require an application through the Palestinian Authority to Israel — a process that is uncertain and notoriously opaque, Ms Montell said.

The document says a final decision is also subject to approval by Israel’s “political echelon”.

The EU, which sends hundreds of students and professors on academic exchanges to the West Bank each year, did not immediately comment on the Israeli announcement.

COGAT officials declined to comment further, while the Palestinian Authority had no immediate reaction. Ms Montell said her group would continue its legal challenges.

Soraya Ebrahimi – homepage editor