How does Israel decide who gets a visa to Ramallah?
Some visiting scholars received regular visas, while others receive 'Palestinian Authority only' stamps.
Sven Ouzman, a 39-year-old archaeologist from South Africa, violated the terms of his "Palestinian Authority only" visa six times, when unintentionally and for lack of choice, he drove on roads under full Israeli control, between Palestinian Authority enclaves in the West Bank.
Ouzman, who was attending a conference of the World Archaeological Congress in Ramallah last month, was late for a lecture he was scheduled to deliver on the evening of August 9. He had arrived at the Allenby Bridge crossing on Saturday morning, August 8, after having passed through passport control on the Jordanian side and entering the Israeli-controlled area, but the Israel Airport Authority employees demanded he come back the next day. When he asked them why, "they were very rude and would not reply," Ouzman said this week by phone from South Africa.
Acquaintences later told him that such arbitrariness is standard on the Israeli side. Ouzman returned to Amman for the night. In the morning, he spent about two hours on the Jordanian side and about another nine hours on the Israeli side. "Then began a long process, go there, come here, lots of questions I found offensive, and a lot of waiting, especially waiting," Ouzman said.
Ouzman, is on the faculty of the ethnography and archaeology department of Pretoria University, and also teaches archaeology in prisons. He said that at the Allenby Bridge crossing he recalled an anthropological lesson he learned from teaching in prison, where the authorities intentionally break the monotony and shout at prisoners to disorient them. He suggested that this is similar to what he encountered at the Israeli-controlled border.
"They are all very young. You wonder what training they got; you can't get angry at them, they just obey orders," Ouzman said.
At one point, Ouzman showed officials at the Allenby Bridge his invitation to the archaeology conference, and gave them the phone number of one of the organizers, Adel Yahya from Ramallah. The clerks called Yahya, and asked for the list of conference participants. Ten guest lecturers (out of about 20) had come through Allenby, three of whom were Turkish citizens. Two of the Turkish nationals were refused entry, Yahya said, and the third received a "Palestinian Authority only" visa. A Portuguese guest lecturer also received a "Palestinian Authority only" stamp. These two, along with Ouzman, could not participate in the tour in Silwan, Jerusalem, guided by the archaeologist Dr. Rafi Greenberg.
Haaretz's query as to why some visitors receive regular visas, while others receive "Palestinian Authority only" stamps, went unanswered.
Ouzman shortened his trip by two days due to his restrictive visa. However, in some cases, the damage is much greater: the Palestinian Authority-only visa ruined the research plans for L., a British scholar who had spent time at Bir Zeit University over the summer.
L. received a one-day visa for Israel from the Civil Administration, and set up a meeting at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem to request a regular visa. "Once [the Interior Ministry official] noticed the visa on my passport saying 'Palestinian Authority only,' she screamed that I shouldn't be in Israel and yelled at me for entering without a visa. I tried to explain that this is why we are here, and that I have work to do in Israel as well as the West Bank. She didn't listen, and said angrily that I have to leave and go back to the West Bank."
L. told the clerk he had a one-day visa, and that he comes to the country at least twice a year and always received a regular visa. L. said the clerk spoke to someone over the phone, still sounding very angry.
"Then she told me that [her superior] said I shouldn't be in Israel because I don't have the proper visa, and that if I insisted on applying for a full visa at the ministry I could do so but that I would be denied the visa on the spot," L. said.
The Interior Ministry said it does not have representatives at the Allenby Bridge crossing.
The Israel Airports Authority said, "Israel Airports Authority employees fulfill their function in keeping with directives while maintaining the dignity of the travelers and insuring a proper level of service. The authority supervises the employees by means of a variety of methods. Stamps are given by border supervisors only (who are not authority employees)."
The Negotiation Support Unit, which advises the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department, prepared an opinion paper on the Israeli visa policy, which was sent to consulates and foreign missions. The opinion stated: "Third states whose nationals are subjected to such illegal policies have an obligation to object once the facts are made known to them and their nationals ask them to respond or to take action. Choosing not to object would imply third states' acceptance of Israel's unlawful acts, in violation of third states' duty of non-recognition [of these acts.]"