Foreign West Bank visitors must tell Israel if they fall in love with Palestinians

New Israeli rules set to take effect next week require foreigners entering the West Bank to declare if they have “formed a couple” with a Palestinian and are in a relationship with them, along with other new restrictions likely to make future visits harder for foreign nationals .

The rules — which do not apply to those visiting Israeli settlements in the West Bank — are due to come into force on Monday after being twice delayed by legal challenges.

The new rulebook was drafted by COGAT, the Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs. Under the regulations, first published in February, a foreigner married to a Palestinian, planning on marrying one, or entering a relationship with one, must notify COGAT.

Additionally, if the relationship starts after a foreigner arrives in the West Bank, they must notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of their engagement, wedding, or the start of cohabitation — “whichever occurs first.”

“A foreigner married to a resident of the Area, or forming a couple with one, must proceed to make arrangements…before arriving at the Area. If the relationship starts after the foreigner arrived at the Area, then the authorized COGAT official must be informed in writing within 30 days of the relationship’s start. At the same time, an application must be submitted to the Palestinian Authority for formalizing the status,” the rules state.

Illustrative: A Palestinian man sells roses on Valentine’s Day in the West Bank city of Ramallah, February 14, 2010. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

If their relationship status is not formalized within 90 days, then their Israeli permit will expire and the foreigner would be obliged to leave the country immediately, according to the rules.

Regardless of formalizing their status, the Israeli permit can only be extended for up to 27 months. After which, the foreigner would have to leave the country for a six-month cooling-off period.

The rules also state that foreign passport holders — including Palestinians living abroad — who are planning to visit the West Bank (with the exception of settlements), will no longer be able to obtain visas on arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, and instead will have to apply for them at least 45 days in advance.

The measures will also place significant curbs on the ability of foreigners to study, volunteer or work in the West Bank, in a major blow to student exchange programs operated by the European Union among others.

Passengers sit in a waiting room on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on July 19, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

The new rules will deprive “thousands of Palestinian families of the right to live together without interruption and to live a normal family life,” said HaMoked, the Israeli rights group that led the Supreme Court appeal against the measures.

HaMoked’s director Jessica Montell said in a statement that international humanitarian law gave Israel the right as the “occupying force” in the West Bank to act in the name of its security and “for the well-being of the local population.” But she said the new regulations had “nothing to do with either,” and that the goal of Israel was to “restrict the growth of the Palestinian population through family reunification.”

Passengers arrive on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on July 19, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

Asked by AFP, COGAT said the new regulations were a “two-year pilot” aimed at making the entry process “more efficient and more suited to the dynamic conditions of the times.”

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian lawyer Rasem Kamal said he has been inundated with clients from the diaspora wanting to register power of attorney amid deep uncertainty about arranging their affairs.

“Many people are rushing to come to the West Bank and finish their business here or give the power of attorney because they understand… there may be restrictions on their ability to visit,” he said.

Canadian doctor Benjamin Thomson, one of the 19 plaintiffs involved in the legal challenge, said the Israeli move would disrupt the work of health professionals.

“These draconian measures will severely impact their work, and impair the lives of the Palestinian people,” said Thomson, director of the Keys of Health project aimed at rebuilding healthcare in the Palestinian territories.

“This is micromanaging, with the purpose to damage the Palestinian social fabric,” said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman who moved to the West Bank from Ohio in 1995.

File: Students seen on the campus of Bethlehem University in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. May 19, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The new rules will also set quotas for academic exchange programs, allowing just 150 foreign professors and 100 students to attend Palestinian universities each year.

The proposed quotas drew a strong rebuke from the European Union, whose Erasmus+ exchange program will be particularly hit.

In 2020, 366 European students and professors took part in courses in the West Bank, significantly more than the overall quota for the next two years.

“While Israel greatly benefits from Erasmus+, the [European] Commission considers that it should facilitate and not hinder the access of students to Palestinian universities,” Education Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said in July.

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