Lawmakers examine Israeli rules limiting travel in the West Bank

Dozen members Members of Congress have asked senior officials in the Biden administration to address the new Israeli policy that severely restricts the ability of foreigners, including American citizens, to travel to the occupied West Bank.

The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, known as COGAT, the unit of the Israeli Defense Ministry tasked with managing civil issues in the occupied Palestinian territories, issued a long set of rules earlier this spring regulating access to the West Bank. As reported by The Intercept, the rules formalize the invasive screening that has long been the norm for those traveling there, but also include new restrictions aimed at limiting the ability of foreign passport holders of Palestinian origin to visit their families and homeland as well as other foreigners to enter areas, including work or study.

In a letter sent this week to the heads of state, education, and homeland security departments, Representative Jamal Bowman and 11 other Democrats noted that the new rules “severely restrict the ability of American academics and students to teach and study at Palestinian universities in the occupied Palestinian territories” and stressed that “No similar restrictions apply to American academics and students seeking to teach and study in Israeli universities nor to Israeli academics and students seeking to teach and study in the United States.”

The new rules, whose implementation has been delayed until July pending an appeal to Israeli courts, limit the number of foreign scholars allowed into the regions to 100 and the number of students to 150. Israel will grant visas only to those who focus on specific fields of study, and will limit the amount of time they can spend it there.

The lawmakers wrote that “these unilateral actions violate the Palestinians’ right to education and the academic freedom of American professors and students who wish to engage with their Palestinian counterparts,” adding that the policy “has no defensible rationale.”

In another letter, sent to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken earlier this month, Representative Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., wrote that the new rules “could significantly affect the [her constituents’] The ability to travel, visit relatives, or do business in parts of the occupied West Bank.”

Wexton cited requirements, which Israeli officials are now looking to make permanent, that were first introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic that would ban foreigners from traveling to the West Bank without approval 45 days before travel and without disclosing information about the territory they are in. They own it there. .

Wexton added: “It appears that Americans who wish to visit Israel or any of the settlements will be exempted from the new rules.” “This disparate treatment under the law is alarming.”

A State Department spokesperson told The Intercept earlier this month that ministry officials are aware of the new rules and “communicate with Israeli authorities to understand their application and encourage further consultation with stakeholders prior to implementation.”

“We seek equal treatment and freedom of travel for all citizens of the United States, regardless of national origin or race,” the spokesperson added. The Departments of Education and Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.

But critics of the new rules, including many Palestinian-Americans, say they have long denounced discriminatory treatment by Israeli officials when traveling to the occupied territories — and that US officials have done nothing in the past to address the issue.

“In the past, US citizens have complained to the State Department about discrimination, and the US response has always been that Israel has a sovereign right to exclude people it doesn’t want,” Zaha Hassan, human rights attorney and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Intercept. “This is actually a moment when the United States can very well help change the policies that affect Americans trying to work, study and visit in the West Bank.”

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