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Israel’s ‘illegal’ military entry permit bars selected tourists from West Bank - report

Israel’s ‘illegal’ military entry permit bars selected tourists from West Bank - report
Many tourists hoping to visit the West Bank are finding it impossible to do so – because Israel requires certain visitors to have an entry permit. Obtaining permission is anything but easy, because Tel Aviv doesn't explain the process, Haaretz reported.

The requirement for military entry permits reportedly began at the beginning of 2013. However, not everyone is required to obtain the special pass – and no information has been published surrounding the selection process.

Clerics from the US reportedly had to sign a declaration at Ben-Gurion International Airport recently, promising not to enter Area A without permits from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Area A includes all Palestinian cities and their surrounding areas, with no Israeli settlements. The area is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

COGAT is a military office which coordinates civilian issues between the Israeli government, the Israel Defense Forces, international organizations, diplomats, and the Palestinian Authority.

"I understand that in the event that I enter any area under the control of the Palestinian Authority without the appropriate authorization all relevant legal actions will be taken against me, including deportation and denial of entry into Israel for a period of up to ten years,"
the English-language version of the declaration reads.

Israeli policemen walk near tourists as they patrol the arrival terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.(Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)

The clerics signed the document, but were not told how they could obtain the special permission.

The clerics told Haaretz that they had been sent from their church to work with Christian communities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But their mission ended before it ever began because they were not told how to obtain the military entry permit.

One of the clerics sought help from the US Consulate in Jerusalem – but none of the employees were aware of the restictions. The spokesman for the US consulate declined to answer whether Israel had informed the American authorities about the obligation to sign a statement, and did not explain the viewpoint of the US Department of State.

Palestinians board a bus as a new line is made available by Israel to take Palestinian labourers from the Israeli army crossing Eyal, near the West Bank town of Qalqilya, into the Israeli city Tel Aviv.(AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)

According to Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, the Entry into Israel Law authorizes the interior minister to decide on the entry of foreigners to the State of Israel. In the case of Judea and Samaria, the Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff makes the determination with a permit from the coordinator’s office.

“When a tourist or foreign national arrives at the international border crossings and it is believed that he wants to enter Judea and Samaria, he should be informed [of the procedure] and asked for his promise to receive a permit from the coordinator’s office before his entry – a permit that constitutes an essential condition [of entry to the Palestinian Authority controlled areas]," she said.

But there is no mention of the existence of such a procedure on COGAT's English website. The spokesman for the coordinator's office said the matter of the procedure and the form is being examined.

Meanwhile, lawyers are questioning the legality of the declaration. According to the Oslo Accords, citizens of countries which have diplomatic ties with Israel need only an entry permit for Israel and a valid passport to enter Palestinian Authority territories, Attorney Adi Lustigman said.

Palestinians cross through Israel's Eyal checkpoint as they return to the West Bank, near Qalqilya.(Reuters / Baz Ratner)

The declaration “is not legal because it was formulated for an improper purpose – isolating the occupied territories – and in an improper manner. It makes the assumption that people who arrive in Israel as tourists, as clerics and for other purposes want to act in contradiction to the law, which may not have been explained to them clearly,” Lustigman said.

“If there really is such a procedure, it should be publicized in a simple, clear and accessible manner...it seems there is no operative procedure, nor any procedure for submitting a request. We are left only with a prohibition, which, as we have mentioned, is invalid,” she added.

The practice of requiring tourists to sign such declarations was first reported seven years ago, but was reportedly discontinued and renewed only at the beginning of this year.

Several years ago, the Interior Ministry also began to limit the freedom of movement of tourists with work and family ties in the West Bank, in order to prevent their entry into Israel by means of a permit with the stamp “For the territories of Judea and Samaria only.”

Palestinian women take a rest after crossing the Israeli Jalama checkpoint, near Jenin, as they return home to the West Bank after spending the day working in Israel .(AFP Photo / Saif Dahlah)