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The United States government has lodged a vigorous protest with Israel over its restrictions on the entry of Palestinian-Americans into the territories.

State Department officials told senior Israeli diplomats in Washington that they find it "hard to understand" Israel's discriminating against American citizens based on their ethnic background.

The officials also stressed that in the past, the U.S. had encouraged Palestinian-Americans to settle in the territories, in order to facilitate Palestinian economic growth. Some of these individuals own homes and businesses in the territories, and the Israeli restrictions make it hard for them to look after their assets.

Israel has promised to look into the American complaint. A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said on Tuesday that the individuals involved have been blacklisted for security reasons, based on targeted intelligence.

The number of individuals refused entry into Israel because of their final destination in the West Bank has increased since April. Most face restriction for the first time at the border crossing itself - the Interior Ministry has not released official statements denying Americans entrance to the territories.

This is the first time since 1967 that Israel has prevented Palestinians with foreign citizenship - especially U.S. - from entering the West Bank.

The restriction has affected a few thousand Palestinians holding American or European citizenship, some of whom wanted to return to their homes and others who came to visit their family. Many are also potential workers - business owners and entrepreneurs, academics and professors.

The change in policy has also taken a toll on foreign citizens who are not Palestinian, but have a Palestinian spouse or partner, and on academics invited to the region for research or teaching.