Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Denial of Entry: Rice's Probe and the Israeli Administration

Rima Merriman, The Electronic Intifada, 17 October 2006
(Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank)

"The good news that Condoleezza Rice "wants the Israeli government to explain restrictions on Palestinian-Americans traveling on U.S. passports in Israel and the Palestinian territories" spread like wildfire in the occupied Palestinian territories. Rice has apparently listened to something from the Palestinian side!

Maybe she saw the ads that the Palestinian grassroots Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry into the oPt had placed in all the local papers during her most recent visit - a photograph of her and Abbas with the caption "Wish we could be there to help you!", meaning that Americans, and Palestinian-Americans especially, are being denied entry to the oPt, and so are also denied the opportunity to play a role in the peacemaking she was seeking.

But elation must be tempered with caution, because the experience of Palestinians with the Israeli government from whom Rice is asking "an explanation" is never straightforward. The Israeli government's response so far is as follows:

"We are aware of this issue, and we are looking into it at senior levels," an Israeli official said yesterday. "We are waiting to receive additional information from the administration."

It sounds reasonable and measured. It's as though they are talking about a computer glitch: "We are aware of the problem; we are looking into it." We are being led to believe that it is "an administrative" issue that has nothing to do with the government - some kind of bureaucratic misunderstanding.

It's been clear from the start that the reason behind the visa denial policy about which the Israeli government is now collecting "additional information" from its administration was motivated politically.

The policy is meant to put pressure on the Hamas-led government and to punish Palestinians generally, as the majority of foreign passport holders who are denied entry have family connections in the oPt, and they and their families are very, very unhappy. Another end Israel means to achieve through this policy is to isolate the West Bank in various ways: There are few internationals in the West Bank to witnesses Israeli aggressions, little or no international expertise to develop education, business, health or government.

If all this would come out in Rice's probe, perhaps the US would pressure Israel to ease these restrictions not just for its nationals, but also for all internationals (and especially Palestinian expatriate nationals) who wish to visit or reside in the oPT for legitimate reasons."

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