Saturday, January 06, 2007

Feature: Visitors sagas continue in Israeli Occupied Palestine By Mohammed Mar'i

Anita and Enayeh wait the Israeli tourist visa

By Mohammed Mar'i*

(Ramallah, Occupied Palestine) -- After months from being prevented to enter the West Bank, the" Israeli government plans to grant 27-month entry visas for the West Bank to bearers of foreign passports who do not come from enemy countries" (Americans and Europeans), said the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories spokesman Shlomo Dror. He added that "the matter is being looked into," and that "it looks like it will be approved." Israel is considering issuing entry visas that will permit staying for 27 months without leaving the West Bank or Israel. This Important development comes after the intervention of recently appointed Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh of Kadima Party, and the pressure imposed by some of the governments of the foreign-passport holders.

The Israeli government policy before several months was to renew visas of foreign-passport holders automatically after three months without the applicant having to leave the West Bank. Later Israel began to insist that foreign-passport holders have to leave the West Bank or Israel and apply to renew their visas from elsewhere. As part of Israel's undeclared policy, foreigners who applied to Israel via the Palestinian Authority as they had in the past, were either turned down or received notification that this was the last time their visas would be renewed without them first leaving the West Bank and Israel. This process includes the spouses of Palestinian residents, foreign lecturers, foreign students and family members who come to the West Bank to spend their summer vacation with their relatives or to participate in wedding parties. Accordingly Israel, in most cases, turned down the visa applications, prohibiting the entry, or reentry, of the applicant. This Israeli policy has caused some 100,000 people to lose their status as permanent residents in the occupied territories and to remain exiles in the countries to which they went to study or work.

Enayeh Samara, 56, is a native of the West Bank and became U.S. citizen when she lived in Chicago in her teens and 20s. By renewing the 3-month tourist visa, she resided in Ramallah with her Husband Adel Samara for 31 years. On May 12, Enayeh Samara took a trip to Jordan. When she returned to the West Bank on May 26, 2006, she was barred from entry.

Anita Abdullah is Swiss and has been married with Ghassan Abdullah for 28 years. They have been living together in Ramallah for 12 years. She was given two weeks to leave the occupied Palestinian territory. The Israeli Ministry of Interior wrote on her Swiss passport: "LAST PERMIT." Anita is a member of the Ramallah-based "Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories," said Palestinians whose visas have expired are "staying put," fearing that if they go abroad to renew them in accordance with the current requirement, they will still not be allowed back in.

It is known that there are three ways for non-Palestinians who reside in the West Bank to receive residency rights. The first is through family reunification. A Palestinian resident has to fill a reunification application for his relatives. Israel has suspended since 2000, when the second intifada broke out.

The second is six months visitors' permits. These permits were granted by Israel for those from enemy-classified countries married to Palestinians. There are tens of thousands of foreigners, including 60,000 Jordanian-born women, as well as women from other Arab countries, who, in the past, were granted such permits. However, Israel stopped granting them after the outbreak of the intifada.

The third way is by granting tourist visas to foreigner-passport holders. But until Israel changed its policies, spouses of Palestinians from Western countries were able to renew their visas virtually automatically.

Until Enaya Samara, who has been living in forced exile for the past eight months returns to her family in Ramallah, and until Anita Abdullah visa renewed, it will not be possible to believe that Israel has changed its policy .

* Mohammed Mar'i is a Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah.