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30 Sep, 2007 02:06

'They won't let us through" - Russian brides stuck in West Bank

News that visa-free travel could soon be introduced for Russians travelling to Israel and vise-versa has been greeted with a sigh of relief by thousands of Russians stuck in the West Bank.

Oksana Raskornaya has been working and living in the Palestinian Autonomy for eight years. Each morning she travels ten kilometres from her home in Tulkaram town to her clinic. She can’t always get there, though, because she doesn’t have Palestinian papers.

“Me and many girls from the former Soviet Union, we don’t have the permanent citizenship of the Palestinian Autonomy. So I cannot cross the checkpoint. Sometimes when I go to work the Israeli soldiers stop me asking my passport and don’t let me go through,” says Oksana.

The West Bank has been an Israeli military zone ever since the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, began in 2000. Since the Israeli army doesn’t deal with the issue of passports, about 2,000 Russian and former Soviet Union citizens living there are without papers. 

Irina Ismaile doesn’t work but is forced to stay at home because of the same problem. 

“The main problem is that we cannot get to Ramallah where the Russian representative office is. We cannot move. Soldiers are on every corner. We need to show them the residency permit of Palestinians that we don’t have,” says Irina. 

Shukri Sharkas hasn’t seen his friends and family who live in Israel for a decade. After hearing on the news that Israel and Russia are looking into cancelling visas requirements for Russian tourists travelling to Israel, he couldn’t wait.  Any attempt to cross an Israeli checkpoint with his Russian passport ended up with him being turned away. 

“I hope we will be able to go to Israel. I hope our president, our representative, and embassy in Israel don’t think of us as second-class citizens. We are citizens of Russia that live on the Palestinian territory so they need to treat us as any other citizen of Russia,” says Shukri Sharkas.

The Foreign Ministers of Israel and Russia met recently in New York to make headway on the issue. 

“This step is important for bilateral relations. We mean to encourage cultural and business ties and all those who are residents of the West Bank and Israel will be affected. I don’t see formal linkage but at the same time we can detect some positive movement on the status of ladies who live in the West Bank,” said Petr Stegney, Russia’s Ambassador to Israel.

Still, the political and economic situation in the Palestinian Autonomy is getting worse, especially after the violent takeover in Gaza. 

Formal proceedings between Russia and Israel over the question of visas will begin in October but could take several months to complete. 

However, the fate and status of Russians living in the Palestinian Autonomy are likely to be last on the list.