Lawmakers Scrutinize Israeli Rules Limiting West Bank Travel

 Lawmakers Scrutinize Israeli Rules Limiting West Bank Travel

A dozen members Congress has asked top officials in the Biden administration to resolve a new Israeli policy that severely restricts the ability of foreigners, including U.S. citizens, to travel in the occupied West Bank.

The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, known as COGAT, the Israeli Defense Forces unit tasked with handling civilian issues in the occupied Palestinian territories, has issued a long set of rules earlier this spring regulating access to the West Bank. As reported by The Intercept, the rules formalize invasive screening that has long been common for travelers there but also include new restrictions aimed at restricting the ability of foreigners holding passports of Palestinian descent. to visit their families and homeland as well as other foreigners. to enter territories, including to work or study.

In a letter sent this week to heads of the departments of State, Education, and Homeland Security, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y., 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 Territory” and emphasize 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 was delayed in July while awaiting a challenge in Israeli courts, limit the number of foreign scholars allowed to access the territories to 100 and students to 150. , and this will limit the amount of time they can be there.

“These partial practices violate Palestinians’ right to education and the academic freedom of American professors and students who wish to associate with their Palestinian counterparts, ”the lawmakers wrote, adding that the policy “there is no defensible justification.”

In another letter, sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., Writes that the new rules “could have a big impact. [her constituents’] ability to travel, visit relatives, or do business in parts of the occupied West Bank. ”

Wexton pointed to the requirements, which Israeli officials are now seeking to make permanent, first introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic that would prevent foreigners from traveling to the West Bank without obtaining permission 45 days in advance. yet traveled and did not disclose information about the land they owned there. .

“It appears that Americans who want to visit Israel or any settlements will be exempt from the new rules,” Wexton added. “This unequal treatment under the law is relevant.”

A State Department spokesman told The Intercept earlier this month that department officials are aware of the new rules and will “engage with Israeli authorities to understand their application and encourage further consultation. to stakeholders before implementation. “

The spokesperson added, “We seek equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity.” The Education and Homeland Security departments did not respond to a request for comment.

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

“In the past, American citizens have complained to the State Department about discrimination, and the U.S. response has always been that Israel has a sovereign right to exclude people who don’t want it,” said Zaha Hassan, a lawyer at human rights and with Carnegie. Endowment for International Peace, told The Intercept. “This is actually a time where the U.S. can be very helpful in changing policies that affect Americans who try to work, study, and visit the West Bank.”

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