An analysis of UN data show that a recent surge in reports of deportations of individuals attempting to transit through Israel to work with Palestinians is apparently the result of an official strategy implemented by the Israeli government beginning in January of this year, announced the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor today.
Reports submitted to the Access Coordination Unit (ACU) of the United Nations Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator show that in 2015, only 1 percent of the 384 “incidents” encountered by UN and international NGO employees and consultants resulted in deportations. Rather, the vast majority of the problems (76 percent) were delays. The same pattern was observed in the previous three years. However, to date in 2016, 9-10 percent of all 232 incidents ended in deportation.
I am Euro-Med’s international secretary, and I have joined those numbers. I traveled to Israel in August with a permit to enter Gaza obtained by a Swedish NGO for which she had planned to implement a women’s project. Yet I was refused entry to the country, was fingerprinted and photographed, held in a detention center for 12 hours and deported home. Just five days before me, another American—a trainer in ‘respectful confrontation’ working for the NGO—also was deported despite having a permit to enter Gaza.
While the circumstances of our deportations differed in specific details, we all have several characteristics in common. We were professionals entering Israel to work on internationally supported projects in Palestinian territory, who were seemingly arbitrarily ordered home and treated as criminals in the process. Despite notification and a request for help, the U.S. embassy refused assistance. One must assume, given the statistical trends, that a deliberate policy is at work, with American complicity.
The numbers collected by the UN ACU do not include activists and independent workers who try to enter the Palestinian territories through Israeli-controlled crossings, for whom anecdotal reports of deportations have trickled in steadily over the past several years but have soared recently. Recent examples include five delegates from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (July) and Adam Hanieh, a senior lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, who was scheduled to give a series of lectures at Birzeit University, a Palestinian institution in the West Bank (September). No one appears to be collecting these numbers, outside of the Israeli government. And unfortunately, the Right to Enter Committee—a group of mostly Israeli attorneys who had specialized in these cases—has not been active since about 2010.
Most of us who have been deported were verbally informed of 10-year bans on returning to any Israeli-controlled border, and forced to sign a statement acknowledging they will no longer be allowed to obtain a visa at the Israeli border, as most travelers can. Although in the past has been widely known that Israel has discriminated against many travelers of Arab or Muslim heritage, increasingly ethnic and religious characteristics have appeared to play a minimal role; anyone tagged as sympathetic to Palestinians and capable of effective advocacy is at risk.
When I was detained, one of my guards stated defensively that “all countries have a right to decide who enters.” But, as I responded, this is different. None of us wanted or intended to stay in Israel. We were forced to cross an Israeli-controlled border only because we wanted to visit the Palestinian territories, which Israel is occupying. I don’t know of any other place in the world where another country is allowed to prevent another from welcoming visitors.
I recall a quote in a 2014 issue of the Jerusalem Post, in which the reporter described Israel’s periodic military forays into Gaza as “mowing the grass.” It seems the Israeli government now is instituting a similar policy designed to rid itself of dissenters.
For example, it was recently reported in the media that a new joint task force, established by the Israeli interior and public security ministries, is urging Israeli citizens to call a hotline with information about individuals involved in BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activities, thus allowing them to be deported.
Likewise, local officials for international NGOs such as World Vision and the UN Development Programme have recently been accused with financially supporting the Hamas movement that governs Gaza.
The analysis of UN ACU data show that in addition to deportations, reported incidents also include long delays (the most common) and a forced cancellation of the “mission.” Such incidents occur at all Israeli-controlled crossing points, with the majority occurring at (in order of frequency) the Erez crossing into Gaza, the Allenby bridge from Jordan into the West Bank and Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
It is increasingly looking like Israel has launched a systematic campaign to prevent substantive challenges to denial of Palestinian human rights. And to date, the international community is looking the other way. Expressing “concern,” as international spokespersons often do, is not sufficient. Formal complaints against Israel should be filed with international bodies until the Palestinian people are allowed to decide on their own visitation rights. Otherwise, is this not the definition of a prison?