Welcome to Palestine: ‘Even prisoners are allowed visits’

Even Jews can be barred by Israel from travelling to Bethlehem – for the thought crime of supporting Palestinian rights.

So far, there has been scant US press coverage of 'Welcome to Palestine' [EPA]

Washington, DC – What difference will it make to the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank when the world meets their demands for freedom and self-determination?

One difference it will make: like other peoples of the world, the Palestinians will get to decide who they can invite to visit them.

Right now, if you, as a citizen of the United States, Canada, or Europe, decide that you want to visit Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the West Bank – the same Bethlehem that Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus – you have two ways to begin your journey. You can fly to Israel, and cross the 1967 border to the West Bank. Or you can fly to Jordan, and cross to the West Bank over one of the bridges. But whichever way you go, you cannot pass to Bethlehem without the permission of the Netanyahu government, which controls all paths you can take to Bethlehem.

If you are a Likud supporter, flying into the Israeli airport should present no problem. But if you are a supporter of Palestinian rights, the Netanyahu government could stop you from going to Bethlehem on purely political grounds – even if you have never committed any crime and have no intention of ever committing one, even if you have never attended a Palestinian protest in the West Bank and have no intention of attending one. You could be barred by the Netanyahu government from going to Bethlehem simply for the thought crime of supporting Palestinian human rights.

Indeed, even Jews from the US can be barred by the Netanyahu government from travelling to Bethlehem for the thought crime of supporting Palestinian rights.

Crowds flock to Bethlehem for Christmas

Given the economic, political and diplomatic support given to the Netanyahu government by North America and Europe, this is a spectacular state of affairs. You might think that governments and media in North America and Europe would express forceful concern if their citizens’ right to travel were obstructed by a government they were doing so much to support.

Palestinian campaign

This weekend, this question will be put to the test by the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign.

The Associated Press reports:

Activists with the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign are set to land in Israel on dozens of flights Sunday. They say they wish to travel to nearby Bethlehem in the West Bank to participate in a week of activities, like the dedication of a school and homestays with Palestinian families.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian campaign organiser, said the activists were coming to exercise their right to visit the Palestinian territories.

“The object is not to fly in to make a protest at the airport. The object is for foreigners to visit us,” Qumsiyeh said. “Even prisoners are allowed visits.”

The Netanyahu government says that it will “round up activists who land in the country and deport them”, which is again a spectacular fact. Apparently, you can be deported by the Netanyahu government not because of what you do, but because of who you are. If you are an “activist”, then Palestinians welcome you to Bethlehem, but you may not be able to get there, because the Netanyahu government may deport you for being such an “activist”.

So far, there has been scant press coverage in the US of “Welcome to Palestine”, and this again is a spectacular fact. But the good news is that, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we don’t need to wait on the New York Times and the Washington Post. We can follow and spread the news on Welcome to Palestine on Twitter using the hashtag #fly2palestine.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.