As the Palestinian West Bank is occupied by Israel, visitors intending to travel there are required to obtain proper visas and documentation from an Israeli consulate. Such documentation, of course, also allows the traveler to visit the rest of Israel if they so wish. Or, at least, it did.
This summer, however, numerous reports have surfaced from travelers to the West Bank who found that their visas prohibited them from visiting the rest of Israel. According to Time magazine, the policy was quietly enacted by Israel in June as a “security measure.” According to a number of bloggers and activists, the policy violates international law and a promise made by the 1995 Oslo II Accords of unhindered movement for foreign travelers to Israel.
Palestinian-American Toufic Haddad, writing for online newspaper The Faster Times, details the offense, drawing potential comparisons:
Moreover, the very restriction on travel is equivalent to a country issuing a visa to a specific area of its country, but not to the whole country. A parallel might be the U.S. issuing a visa only to majority-black Harlem in Manhattan, or the Mashantucket Pequot reservation in Connecticut.
Marcy Newman, who blogs for Body on the Line and until recently lived in the Palestinian town of Nablus, writes of her own ordeals of living under occupation:
ultimately i knew that i could not stay in palestine forever given that foreigners (i.e., not palestinians; read: zionist colonist terrorists) control the borders and they get to play a game with the lives of all people who cross over into palestine whether they are originally palestinian or not. i’ve long heard stories and received emails–some from friends and comrades, others from complete strangers–about being denied entry. about being allowed limited entry, in terms of time. about three weeks before i left a friend of mine left for amman to renew her visa. she’s finishing up research for her dissertation and living in ramallah. she came back and said she had only a few days and she had to leave again. not only could she only stay one week (in lieu of the normal three month visa granted to foreigners at the malak [King] hussein bridge), but she was granted a west bank only visa. this was the first time i had heard of such a thing. but it turns out that it was quickly becoming a phenomenon.
Canadian and American citizens with “Palestinian-sounding names” are now routinely denied entry into Israel at Ben Gurion National Airport, and told to use the Allenby land bridge from Jordan into the West Bank. But once they get there, their passports are stamped “Palestinian Authority only,” and entry into Israel is still denied.
U.S. nationals to whom this has happened have banded together and complained to the U.S. Consulate. Palestinian Joharah Baker, writing for MIFTAH, encourages more to do so:
So, US nationals, the next time you are turned back at one of Israel's borders or are given a PA-only stamp, file a complaint with the US Consulate just for good measure. Just don't expect a reply.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama has issued a statement condemning Israel's actions, the visa restrictions still remain. A U.S.-based campaign, run by the Arab American Institute, encourages American citizens who are denied entry at the Allenby bridge to fill out a denial form to submit to the U.S.