Israel delays, amends new restrictions on foreigners in West Bank

Updated text removes paragraph demanding foreigners inform Israeli authorities about new relationships with Palestinians.

separation wall
The wide-ranging policy imposes rules on foreigners who marry Palestinians or who come to the West Bank to work, volunteer, study or teach [File: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]

Israel has delayed the implementation of a set of recently revised restrictions (PDF) for foreigners entering the occupied West Bank after a widespread backlash against the rules, which initially included stipulations that foreigners notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of starting a relationship with a Palestinian resident.

COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, has amended some of the restrictions, which were set to be implemented on Monday, including the removal of the 30-day rule, in a new document published on Sunday, but many other rules remain.

The original text had also said that foreign spouses of Palestinians would initially be only granted three or six-month permits, with most then required to leave the West Bank for six months before obtaining a new permit.

The rules would also have forced foreigners married to Palestinians to leave for half a year after 27 months of marriage for a “cooling off” period.

The requirement to remain outside the West Bank for six months does not appear in the latest draft. However, many of the changes in the 90-page document released appeared to be largely cosmetic, and none of the rules applies to people visiting Israel or the more than 130 illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israel had recently come under sharp criticism for the document, which was initially published without much fanfare in February.

The United States’s Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said on Sunday that he continued “to have concerns” with the new rules, “particularly regarding COGAT’s role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank, and the potential negative impact on family unity.”

COGAT has not commented on the document.

Rules regulating the entry of foreign academics and students to the occupied West Bank are still included in the updated document, although restrictions on the number of foreign students and teachers have been dropped.

HaMoked, a Jerusalem-based human rights organisation criticised the new rules, saying that Israel will “prevent thousands of families from living together for blatantly political reasons”.

“The Israeli military’s procedure on the entry of foreigners to the West Bank violates Israel’s international legal obligations and HaMoked will continue its legal challenge of it,” the group tweeted.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in April on an earlier version of the COGAT document, Marwa Fatafta, a Palestinian digital rights expert and Al Shabaka policy analyst, said that the aim of the rules was “surveillance”.

“With the new policy, Israeli authorities want to map out the social circles and property of Palestinians who live abroad with foreign passports,” Fatafta said.

“The entire identification system is built to control the most two crucial aspects of Palestine: people and land. Now, in a way, it will also apply to Palestinians with ties to the West Bank,” she added.

Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. Today, Israel continues to force Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank from their homes and lands, which are often taken over by Jewish Israeli settlers.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies