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New Wikileaks cable shows Israel's West Bank blockade

In a 2009 cable, American diplomats complain that Israel is not issuing work visas for Palestinian companies’ foreign employees

Allenby Bridge Crossing. All travelers must have approval from Israeli authorities (photo: zbrazz_wang / flickr)

While most people who follow the news from Israel and the Palestinian territories know well enough that Israel blocks travel to and from Gaza, it is always surprising how few are aware that all exists and entries to the West Bank are also controlled by Israel. In fact, while Gaza has a land border with Egypt, which allows a certain flow of people and goods, the Israeli blocked on the West Bank is absolute.

Palestinians who wish to travel outside the West Bank must obtain a special permit from the Israeli security authorities. Those wishing to travel to the United States must have two permits – one to visit the Jerusalem consulate to obtain a visa, and the other to leave Israel. The same goes for international visitors to the West Bank – every one of them has to be approved by Israel.

A recently released Wikileaks cable reveals another aspect of the Israeli control over the gates to the West Bank: the control over international workers for the Palestinian Authority. The document details the story of an American citizen who was detained at Allenby Crossing (the main gateway to the Palestinian Territories, on the Israel-Jordanian border). The consulate states that Israel doesn’t issue work visas for people coming to work in for Palestinian projects, but only tourist visas limited to the West Bank, which make their holders subject to a constant risk of deportation.

Israeli immigration practices are limiting West Bank enterprises’ ability to conduct business, according to contacts working on the planned Rawabi housing/commercial estate.  Because only companies and NGOs registered in Israel can apply for Israeli work permits, West Bank companies, like Rawabi, cannot get work permits for their non-Palestinian consultants, employees, or investors.  This restriction forces overseas hires to enter the West Bank on tourist visas, subjecting them to the risk of deportation.  The continued use of the “PA only” stamp at Allenby (reftels) further limits the employees’ travel and effectiveness.

A few months ago, several hundreds foreign nationals tried to protest Israel’s control over all entries and exits from the West Bank as part of the “welcome to Palestine” campaign. Participants in the campaign bought airline tickets to Israel and planned on publicly stating their intention to visit the Palestinian Territories. Most of them weren’t allowed to board their flights to Israel. Others were arrested at the airport and put in Israeli detention centers before being deported back to their countries of origin.

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Illustrations: Eran Mendel