Palestinians hurry home to visit fearful of new Israeli rules

An interior view of the King Hussein Bridge border crossing terminal. Under new Israeli regulations, most foreigners will no longer be able to arrive via Israel’s main airport near Tel Aviv but only through the King Hussein Bridge crossing between Jordan and the West Bank. (Photo: Twitter)

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — All summer, Palestinians from the millions-strong diaspora have been flocking to the West Bank, fearful new Israeli rules expected to take effect next week could make future visits hard if not impossible.اضافة اعلان

Under the regulations, first published in February to a storm of protest, foreign passport holders — including Palestinians living abroad — will no longer be able to obtain visas on arrival and instead have to apply for them at least 45 days in advance.

The measures will place significant curbs on the ability of foreigners to study, volunteer, or work in the West Bank, in a major blow to student exchange programs operated by the EU among others.

In most cases foreigners will no longer be able to arrive via Israel’s main airport near Tel Aviv but only through the King Hussein Bridge crossing between Jordan and the West Bank.

The new rulebook drafted by the Israeli occupation forces is expected to come into force on Monday after being delayed twice by legal challenges.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian lawyer Rasem Kamal said he has been inundated with clients from the diaspora wanting to register power of attorney amid deep uncertainty about arranging their affairs.

“Many people are rushing to come to the West Bank and finish their business here or give the power of attorney because they understand ... there may be restrictions on their ability to visit,” he said.

Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian-American who divides his time between Monterey, California and the West Bank, is among thousands visiting Ramallah to see extended family.

“I’ve been to a wedding every day for the past two weeks, I’m exhausted,” he joked.

His wife Maggie said they did not come to see tourist sites like the Dead Sea frequented by other Americans.

“We come to see our family, and enjoy the country and to teach our kids about the Palestinian culture,” she said.


The new rules will deprive “thousands of Palestinian families of the right to live together without interruption and to live a normal family life”, said HaMoked, the Israeli rights group that led the supreme court appeal against the measures.

Canadian doctor Benjamin Thomson, one of the 19 plaintiffs involved in the legal challenge, said the Israeli move would disrupt the work of health professionals.

“These draconian measures will severely impact their work, and impair the lives of the Palestinian people,” said Thomson, director of the Keys of Health project aimed at rebuilding healthcare in the Palestinian territories.

Foreign spouses visiting the West Bank will be limited to three or six-month permits, with limits also placed on foreign volunteers.

“This is micromanaging, with the purpose to damage the Palestinian social fabric,” said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman who moved to the West Bank from Ohio in 1995.

The regulations will disrupt the visits of thousands living abroad without Palestinian identity cards.

Currently Palestinians with a foreign passport and no Palestinian ID can avoid the huge queues at the King Hussein Bridge crossing with Jordan by flying into Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

There they risk being arbitrarily denied entry after sometimes invasive security checks but under the new rules they will have to join the thousands with Palestinian IDs at the overstretched King Hussein Bridge.

The formalities can take 12 hours or more during peak periods in summer.

Goal to ‘restrict’
population growth

The new rules will also set quotas for academic exchange programs, allowing just 150 foreign professors and 100 students to attend Palestinian universities each year.

The proposed quotas drew a strong rebuke from the EU, whose Erasmus+ exchange program will be particularly hit.

In 2020, 366 European students and professors took part in courses in the West Bank, significantly more than the overall quota for the next two years.

“While Israel greatly benefits from Erasmus+, the (European) Commission considers that it should facilitate and not hinder the access of students to Palestinian universities”, Education Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said in July.

HaMoked’s director Jessica Montell said the new regulations had “nothing to do with either” humanitarian law nor the well-being of Palestinians, and that the goal of Israel was to “restrict the growth of the Palestinian population through family reunification”.

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