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Jordan slams door on Gazans

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“We regret to inform you that your application was not accepted.” —The Jordanian Representative Office

This message has been received by almost every Palestinian from Gaza who has applied for what is called a “non-objection” letter from Jordan since last August. Such a letter is required before a Palestinian can cross into Jordan from the West Bank to fly out of Amman to other locations. With the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt closed most of the time, the Jordan route is about the only way for Gazans to travel out for university abroad and other opportunities. (They are not typically allowed to fly out through Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.)

Salsabil Samna, in Germany at last Photo: We Are Not Numbers

Salsabil Samna, in Germany at last
Photo: We Are Not Numbers

Salsabil Samna, a student in her second year at the Islamic University of Gaza, is one of the likely hundreds of Gazans whose attempts to transit the Allenby Bridge into Jordan were rejected. After studying to get high scores in secondary school so she could study medicine in Germany, and after two years of submitting all the papers needed for the visa in addition to studying German, Samna was unable to leave.

“On the day I received my Tawjihi (high school graduation) certificate two years ago, my father and I started the procedures needed to travel to Germany,” recalls Samna, whose sister lives in the country and arranged for her father to travel for a visit as well. “When we received our visas, I went to an office with my father to apply for no-objection letter. They asked for my passport, ID, photo, university acceptance letter and visa. There is a quick application for 50 shekels (about $13 USD) and a normal application for 130 shekels. So we applied for the quick one in two different offices, in the hopes of guaranteeing we would get the permits before our visa expired.” (Entry was required two months after the issue date.)

Fifteen days later, her father received a text message telling him he was refused. However, a month passed and no one contacted Samna about her application. When she called the authorities in Jordan, they said she has been rejected. She asked why, but they would not give a reason.

Samna tried again and again to get a permit to enter Jordan — four times in total. She was rejected every time with no explanation.

“When my visa expired, I contacted the university and told them about the situation. They don’t usually renew, but they renewed it for me,” she said in relief.

The renewal arrived in less than a week. Thankfully, this time, the visa was for three months. The Rafah crossing happened to open for a rare three days at the same time, so Samna made the trek and took her chances. “But I was told there were more urgent cases than mine,” she said.

One more time, she applied for a Jordanian permit. And for a fifth time, 13 days later, she was refused. Now, only a few days were left before the second visa would expire like the first. She had been told there would be no second renewal. “Rafah is my only chance now,” said Samna.

Requesting permission to travel from Jordan

Since Egypt opens the Rafah crossing only a few times a year, it currently satisfies only 8 percent of Gazans needing or desiring to travel. And since the Israeli government does not allow Gaza to operate its own an air or seaport, Jordan has become been the transit route of last resort.

Welcome to Allenby Bridge Crossing Point Photo: We Are Not Numbers

Welcome to Allenby Bridge Crossing Point
Photo: We Are Not Numbers

In addition to Gazan Palestinians, there is another, even larger group who depends on Jordanian permission to travel: the tens of thousands of people living in the West Bank, but lacking status with Jordan. According to Human Rights Watch, these include Palestinians who moved to the West Bank from Gaza, arrived with the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s and those who obtained Palestinian residency (controlled by Israel) via family reunification, also mostly in the 1990s. Although these people live in the West Bank, they still require special Jordanian permission to travel via Allenby.

However, beginning in August 2015, individuals, lawyers and human rights organizations began to document consistent refusals or non-responsiveness to requests for no-objection letters. Prior to that time, the Israel-based Legal Center for Freedom of Movement (Gisha), reports that its clients received Jordanian transit permission relatively easily. There were almost no recorded cases of rejections, says spokesperson Shadi Butthish.

Now, almost every client reports that his or her request for Jordanian permission to travel to Amman has been rejected. Between August 2015 and the end of January, Gisha received requests for help from 58 people who were refused the no-objection letter, including 16 seeking family reunification, 37 students with university acceptance letters and visas to study in third countries, and five people accepted (with visas) to conferences and training programs abroad. The Jordanian authorities either refused these requests with no explanation or did not respond at all, even after months of waiting.

For people who are unable to obtain Jordanian permission to enter Amman, the ability to travel abroad is blocked altogether. Israel will not consider requests to exit Gaza via the Erez Crossing unless a Jordanian no-objection letter already has been obtained.

“We have asked Jordan for the numbers — how many people are traveling now, how many are requesting to travel — but have yet to receive a response,” Sari Bashi, who is the Israel and Palestine country director for Human Rights Watch. “I want to emphasize that the people requesting the no-objection letters are requesting permission to transit, not to stay in Jordan. Most provide, as part of their application, a copy of a foreign visa or residence permit, and a copy of a plane ticket originating in Amman and taking them elsewhere.”

The only Palestinians from the targeted groups who have eventually been able to enter Amman legally to fly out appear to be those with VIP connections or who are participating in programs sponsored by third governments with influence on Jordan and that are willing to intervene directly — such as the United States and France. For example, rapper Ayman Mghamis succeeded in exiting to Amman with the help of the French consulate, which put all of its efforts to obtain the letter so he could perform in concerts organized by the French Institute of Gaza.

Most stories, however, are not like Samna’s or Mghamis’. They are like that of Nashwa Al-Ramlawi.

Nashwa Al-Ramlawi Photo: We Are Not Numbers

Nashwa Al-Ramlawi
Photo: We Are Not Numbers

“I applied for a no-objection letter three times this year and I was rejected every time,” said Al-Ramlawi, who was awarded a scholarship to visit Italy for a month as an exchange student in a program called Erasmus Mundus. Her job is to restore archeologically important buildings for the Islamic University of Gaza, and she wanted to conduct related research on techniques.

“The university I was to attend has a laboratory that can’t be found here, with experienced supervisors,” she said sadly.

The Italian university contacted the Jordanian embassy, as well as the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, but all in vain. Ramlawi lost her scholarship.

Why is Jordan suddenly shutting the door on these Palestinians? No one has been able to get a straight answer. Human Rights Watch staff say, “We hear informally that Jordan doesn’t want to be asked to ‘solve Gaza’s problem’ or be seen as an alternative to Egypt for crossing.”

Mghamis has still other theories.

“The reason is obvious though for anyone who follows politics, particularly in the Middle East,” he says. “Gaza is considered an armed area that belongs to Hamas, which is totally wrong. The majority of Gazans are not Hamas. The second reason is that Israel has a big influence, since Arab countries follow what it says. Thirdly, the media portray us all as terrorists.”

Whomever or whatever is behind this practice, says Bashi, it is collective punishment of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. “Because we fear that many of the travel restrictions imposed on Gaza [by Israel] stem from forbidden collective punishment, we would also say that Jordan has a responsibility not to recognize such unlawful policies and to play a positive role in mitigating their effects.”

Bashi calls on all interested parties to meet with and appeal to the Jordanian embassies in their countries, as well as their own government’s state departments, to change their practices.

Originally published by We Are Not Numbers

About Enas Fares Ghannam

Enas Fares Ghannam, 28, is a freelance English-Arabic translator. She earned a bachelor's degree in English education from Al-Azhar University and a diploma in translation from the Islamic University of Gaza.

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17 Responses

  1. annie
    annie
    July 18, 2016, 3:02 pm

    beginning in August 2015, individuals, lawyers and human rights organizations began to document consistent refusals or non-responsiveness to requests for no-objection letters. Prior to that time, the Israel-based Legal Center for Freedom of Movement (Gisha), reports that its clients received Jordanian transit permission relatively easily. There were almost no recorded cases of rejections, says spokesperson Shadi Butthish.

    this is horrid, despicable. if they have a new policy they should be transparent about it and explain it and be willing to take the heat for it.

    this is a really important article. thank you Enas and We Are Not Numbers.

    • CigarGod
      CigarGod
      July 19, 2016, 11:07 am

      Yes, I probably appreciate highly detailed and well documented articles more than any other kind.

  2. Kate
    Kate
    July 18, 2016, 9:44 pm

    Looks like a good candidate for Seham’s former Today in Palestine category ‘Arab collaborators’ (or something like that, can’t remember the exact name).

  3. Atlantaiconoclast
    Atlantaiconoclast
    July 18, 2016, 10:18 pm

    No wonder the Jordanian dictator is so beloved and put on such a high pedestal by the media and by both parties.

  4. Talkback
    Talkback
    July 19, 2016, 8:58 am

    Air or seaport verboten by Jews.

  5. Kay24
    Kay24
    July 19, 2016, 9:17 am

    If I remember correctly Queen Rania is supposed to be Palestinian. I wish she would do more for her people.

    Let us not forget that Jordan is a recipient of US aid, and therefore will take direction from the US and therefore Israel.

    • eljay
      eljay
      July 19, 2016, 10:19 am

      || Kay24: If I remember correctly Queen Rania is supposed to be Palestinian. I wish she would do more for her people. … ||

      According to Wiki, she is of Palestinian descent but she was born in Kuwait and appears never to have lived or worked in Palestine. Perhaps she’s just Jordanian, and Jordanians are her people.

      • Kay24
        Kay24
        July 19, 2016, 11:49 am

        Maybe the Queen is Jordanian first, and is not concerned for her neighbors suffering under an occupation, or maybe like many of us feels those who can control the situation just does not want to for their own devious reasons.

      • eljay
        eljay
        July 19, 2016, 12:20 pm

        I don’t know where she stands on I-P or why she stands where she stands, but it would be nice if she – and all people – were to advocate justice, accountability and equality in I-P (and elsewhere).

    • Amy1
      Amy1
      August 25, 2016, 3:31 am

      Jordan has been a US puppet long before the current king came into power. It’s not just the US aid that keeps the Jordanian royal family from ever doing something substantial for the Palestinians but the fact that their power depends on the US. They almost parrot the script they are handed because they have to keep the puppeteer on their side to simply exist. The King and the Queen aren’t doing a lot for their own people and spend most of the aid on their lavish lifestyles while their people rot in poverty why would they bother about the Palestinians? The Jordanians learned a very significant lesson in 1967 and that was that they can’t defeat Israel militarily so they might as well start sucking up to it which is the policy of most Arab states to this day.

  6. sawah
    sawah
    July 19, 2016, 11:16 am

    King of Jordan had many experiences of education abroad in the US and to England from primary school (in the US) to college level (US and UK)..His son just graduated from one of his alma maters, Georgtown and his daughter goes there now…

    Last month my daughter received a plea from a Gazan woman, ASMA, (through a friend in Gaza) who was selected by the US State Department for their Middle East Initiative program run out of Georgetown, to come to the US for a summer program. The school she was scheduled to go to (Benedict in Ill) received information only that Asma “missed her appointment for her visa.” She had stated she wants to be a humans rights lawyer. Wonder if that is what kept her in the Gaza prison.
    The woman at Benedict College who was contacted was taken back by my daughter’s call. Clueless as to how she knew a Gazan or the situation….these events need more pressure and exposure, especially when initiated by the state department.. Even if the program is sketchy.

    My daughter and I questioned people at the state department as well and the Middle East program, who again seemed uncomfortable someone knew about the situation. All said they tried to be positive to the young woman as they took her scholarship away…their hands were tied so they said…. So these people deserve our emails at least… again and again Angela Young in the jerusalem state department office,
    [email protected] was the contact last month for Asma and involved in student visas
    sefi shalam [email protected] is another connection..
    Perhaps Kerry needs to be sent emails too ..lots of them….this practice is heartbreaking and on purpose….

  7. Boomer
    Boomer
    July 19, 2016, 3:42 pm

    The U.S. enables this practice; we could put an end to it.

  8. Naftush
    Naftush
    July 21, 2016, 9:35 am

    With interference in freedom of travel routinely cited as justification for BDS against Israel, it would only be consistent for the BDS movement to turn its attention to Jordan and, a fortiori, Turkey with its indiscriminate, disproportionate, etc. lockdown of academia. Waiting, waiting, wai…

    • eljay
      eljay
      July 21, 2016, 10:50 am

      || Naftush: With interference in freedom of travel routinely cited as justification for BDS against Israel, it would only be consistent for the BDS movement to turn its attention to Jordan and, a fortiori, Turkey with its indiscriminate, disproportionate, etc. lockdown of academia. Waiting, waiting, wai… ||

      Jordan and Turkey are not occupying and colonizing Palestine, refusing to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands in Israel and Palestine, or treating Palestinian Israelis as second-class citizens in Israel. Don’t hold Jordan and Turkey accountable for the past and on-going (war) crimes of Israel.

      But since you’re so concerned about Jordan and Turkey, stop “waiting, waiting, wai…” and start separate BDS movements against them. It’s within your power to do so.

    • echinococcus
      echinococcus
      July 21, 2016, 11:24 am

      Who says interference with travel is the main point. There only is one entity that is continuing the invasion, occupation and genocide in Palestine, and that is the Zionist entity. This is what we come talk about on this site, for anything else, go somewhere else.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      July 21, 2016, 4:58 pm

      “Waiting, waiting, wai…”

      And while you wait, you can do activism in/re Jordan and Turkey.
      And don’t worry about Palestine, BDS is directed at possibly spurring some changes there.

  9. Arby
    Arby
    July 22, 2016, 5:46 am

    I have no use for Chomsky bashing HRW.

    I don’t get why Israel, which would like to see all Palestinians disappear, is not helping them to do just that. Then again, After the brutal occupation and regular slaughters, perhaps it’s more like a gang of killers on the watch for any escaping witnesses who might make trouble from afar.

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