Canada silent on new Israeli passport policy

A story in the August 21 edition of the Globe and Mail details Canada’s lack of reaction to new racist passport regulations being enforced against people of Palestinian origin attempting to enter Palestine/Israel.

A background story on the new rules from Electronic Intifada follows below.

Israel targets Palestinian-Canadians
U.S. criticizes Israel’s travel restrictions on Americans of Palestinian origin, but Canada silent so far on similar crack down on Canadians

Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail, August 21, 2009

Washington — A tough Israeli crackdown that discriminates against some American citizens because they are of Palestinian origin has been sharply protested by the Obama administration, but the same treatment curtailing freedom of movement for Canadian citizens has produced no response from the Harper government.

Border guards at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport have been barring entry to arriving Canadian and American citizens with Palestinian-sounding names. They are told they must make a long detour and enter via the Allenby Bridge land-border crossing that connects the West Bank with Jordan. On arrival there, their passports are stamped “Palestinian Authority only” – preventing them from entering Israel, including the annexed parts of East Jerusalem.

The Obama administration has demanded an end to the discriminatory and second-class treatment of some Americans. “The United States expects that all American citizens to be treated equally, regardless of their national origin,” it said in a statement. “We have let the Government of Israel know that these restrictions unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab American travellers and are not acceptable.”

Although some of the most high-profile cases of individuals being turned away involve Canadian citizens, the Harper government has, so far, made no protest.

Canadian diplomats have been told to arrange a meeting with Israeli officials to “better understand the consequences” of the policy, Foreign Affairs spokesman Rodney Moore said Thursday. He confirmed the government “is aware of the new Israeli practice of stamping the passport of foreign nationals with a ‘Palestinian Authority only’ stamp.”

But unlike the U.S. embassy in Israel, which has a long warning on its website, the Canadian Foreign Ministry and the embassy have no information posted.

Monir ElRayes, president of the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians, said he was saddened but not surprised by the stark disparity between the responses from Washington and Ottawa.

“The U.S. is committed to protecting all its citizens and not allowing them to be singled out for their religion or ethnic background,” he said from Ottawa.

“The Harper government wants to disown us even though we are citizens,” he added, citing the lengthening string of cases where non-white and Muslim Canadians facing difficulties overseas were refused help by Canadian diplomats.

“Sadly, this is very un-Canadian,” Mr. ElRayes said.

Stung by the American protest, Israel has promised a review of the policy.

“All of the ministries involved are looking into this, and we expect to have answers very soon,” an Israeli diplomat said Thursday.

The new de facto visas, which limit some visitors to Gaza and the West Bank while keeping them out of Israel and the annexed areas of East Jerusalem, have been stamped in Canadian, American and some European passports for months.

One of those ensnared by the new rules is Mohammed Sabawi, a Canadian businessman whose ordeal was chronicled by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. After more than 15 years of regularly travelling to Israel without restriction and dealing with Israeli businesses, he was forced to enter Palestinian areas via the Allenby Bridge. He was then denied entry into Israel because his passport was stamped “Palestinian Authority only.”

“We were in shock,” Khalid Sabawi, Mohammed Sabawi’s 25-year-old son, told Haaretz as he explained now the new rules barred them from meeting with their Israeli suppliers and partners.

Even the Canada-Israel Committee, a staunchly pro-Israeli lobby group, seems taken aback by the rules that discriminate on the basis of ethnicity.

“We are seeking clarification,” Shimon Fogel, the committee’s chief executive officer, said in a message just before catching a fight back to Canada from Israel. “We will certainly follow up with the Israelis,” he added.

In Israel, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad defended the new rules, saying there was a ban on all Palestinians entering Israel, regardless of what other nationalities they hold. More than one million non-Jews, most of them Palestinian Arabs, hold Israeli citizenship and live in Israel.

Israel brings Gaza entry restrictions to West Bank
Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, August 18, 2009

In an echo of restrictions already firmly in place in Gaza, Israel has begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and thousands of Palestinian residents.

The new policy is designed to force foreign citizens, mainly from North America and Europe, to choose between visiting Israel — including East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed illegally — and the West Bank.

The new regulation is in breach of Israel’s commitments under the Oslo accords to Western governments that their citizens would be given continued access to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel has not suggested there are any security justifications for the new restriction.

Palestinian activists point out that the rule is being enforced selectively by Israel, which is barring foreign citizens of Palestinian origin from access to Israel and East Jerusalem while actively encouraging European and American Jews to settle in the West Bank.

US diplomats, who are aware of the policy, have raised no objections.

Additionally, human rights groups complain that the rule change will further separate East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state, from the West Bank. It is also expected to increase the pressures on families where one member holds a foreign passport to leave the region and to disrupt the assistance aid organizations are able to give Palestinians.

According to observers, the regulation was introduced quietly three months ago at the Allenby Bridge terminal on the border with Jordan, the only international crossing point for Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli officials, who control the border, now issue foreign visitors with a visa for the “Palestinian Authority only,” preventing them from entering Israel and East Jerusalem.

Interior ministry officials say a similar policy is being adopted at Ben Gurion, Israel’s international airport near Tel Aviv, to bar holders of foreign passports who arrive via this route from reaching the West Bank. Foreign citizens, especially those with Palestinian ancestry, are being turned away and told to seek entry via the Allenby Bridge.

Gaza has long been off-limits to any Palestinian who is not resident there and has been effectively closed to Israelis and most foreigners since early 2006, when Israel began its blockade.

“This is a deepening and refinement of the policy of separation that began with Israel establishing checkpoints in the West Bank and building the wall,” said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah who heads a Right to Enter campaign highlighting Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement.

“Foreign governments like the US ought to be up in arms because this rule violates their own citizens’ rights under diplomatic agreements. So far they have remained silent.”

The US consulate in Jerusalem is aware of the increasing restrictions on foreign passport-holders, according to its website, but claims to be powerless to help.

The Right to Enter campaign notes that 60 percent of all people turned back at the borders by Israeli officials are American citizens.

The consulate website notes both the denial of entry for many Palestinian-Americans at Ben Gurion airport, forcing them instead to use the Allenby Bridge crossing into the West Bank, and the issuing at the crossing of the “Palestinian Authority only” stamp, which excludes them from East Jerusalem and Israel.

“The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status changed; only Israeli liaison offices in the West Bank can assist — but they rarely will,” points out the website. “Travelers should be alert, and pay attention to which stamp they receive upon entry.”

Bahour, 44, said the immediate victims of the new policy would be thousands of Palestinians from abroad who, like himself, returned to the West Bank during the more optimistic Oslo period.

Well-educated and often with established careers, they have been vital both to the regeneration of the local Palestinian economy by investing in and setting up businesses and to the nurturing of a fledgling civil society by running welfare organizations and teaching at universities.

Although many have married local spouses and raised their children in the West Bank, Israel has usually denied them residency permits, forcing them to renew tourist visas every three months by temporarily leaving the region, often for years on end.

Bahour said the latest rule change should be understood as one measure in a web of restrictions strangling normal Palestinian life that have been imposed by Israel, which controls the population registers for both Israelis and Palestinians.

In addition to the wall and checkpoints, he said, Israel regularly deported “foreigners,” both humanitarian workers and those of Palestinian origin, arriving in the region; it denied family unification to prevent Palestinian couples living together; it often revoked the residency of Palestinians who study abroad for extended periods; and it confiscated Jerusalem IDs from Palestinians to push them into the West Bank.

He added that the US consulate appeared to have accepted Israel’s right to treat American citizens differently based solely on their ethnic origin.

“While Palestinian-Americans are being denied entry to the region or excluded from Israel and East Jerusalem, Israel is actively encouraging American Jews to come and settle in the West Bank.”

In early 2006 Bahour, who is married with two daughters, was affected by another rule change when Israel refused to renew tourist visas to Palestinians with foreign passports, forcing them to separate from their families in the West Bank.

After an international outcry, Israel revoked the policy but insisted that Palestinians such as Bahour apply for permits from the Israeli military authorities to remain in the West Bank.

“This latest rule, like the earlier one, fits into Israel’s general goal of ethnic cleansing,” he said. “Israel makes life ever more difficult to encourage any Palestinians who can, such as those with foreign passports, to leave.”

Bahour said the new restrictions would further sever the West Bank from Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian commercial and cultural life.

Overnight, he said, his Ramallah business consultancy had lost a quarter of its clients — all from nearby East Jerusalem — because he was now barred from leaving the West Bank.

He lost his limited privileges last month when he finally received a Palestinian ID. He said he had been forced to take the ID, which supersedes his American passport in the eyes of the Israeli authorities, to avoid the danger of being deported.

“The ID was bittersweet for me. It means I can’t be separated from my family here, but it also means my American passport is not recognized and I am now subject to the closures and arrests faced by ordinary Palestinians.”

Sari Bashi, a lawyer with Gisha, an Israeli organization that challenges restrictions on Palestinian movement, said the new policy was placing a severe obstacle in the way of humanitarian organizations, as well as foreigners working in Palestinian welfare organizations and academic institutions.

“Many of the aid organizations working in the West Bank have offices and staff in East Jerusalem and even in Israel, and it’s difficult to see how they are going to cope with this new restriction.”

She said staff of major international organizations such as the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, and its humanitarian division, OCHA, had been denied entry at Ben Gurion airport after declaring that they were working in the West Bank.

“When Israel prevents access to an area, it raises the question of what is happening there,” she said. “What are we being prevented from seeing?”

Human rights groups are also concerned by the wording of the new restriction, confining foreign citizens to the “Palestinian Authority.” The PA rules over only about 40 per cent of the West Bank. The groups fear that in the future Israel may seek to prevent foreigners from moving between the PA-controlled enclaves of the West Bank and the 60 percent under Israel control.

Guy Imbar, a spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said the phrase referred to the entire West Bank.

But Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions warned: “Given Israel’s track record, it is right to be suspicious that the restriction may be reinterpreted at a later date.”

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

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