When a Civil Administration officer at the Beit El military base extended the tourist visa of Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman from Ramallah, and wrote on it "last permit," he did not do so on his own initiative. When the officer issued what amounts to a deportation order against Bahour from the city in which his family has lived for many generations, and in which he has lived for 14 years with his wife and two daughters, he was only the messenger.
When a border official at the Allenby Bridge two weeks ago denied entry to a Palestinian-Jordanian woman arriving with her husband, a young doctor from Ramallah, he was following orders. So were the border officials who did not allow the Spanish wife of R.I. from Ramallah to return with their two-year-old daughter, and those who prevented S.A., a Ramallah-born Palestinian with Swedish citizenship, from returning to his wife, children and livelihood in Bir Zeit. The official who twice denied entry to P.Z., a Palestinian-American who has invested $300 million in the territories and is a senior director of a Palestinian investment company, was also obeying new rules dictated by the Israeli Interior Ministry.
When Interior Ministry spokespersons claim repeatedly that these are not new rules of entry, but rather a "freshening up" about existing procedures, they are not playing dumb on their own initiative. Neither is the senior Civil Administration official who explained to Zahi Khouri - one of the most prominent Palestinian-American businessmen, who has so far been spared the "last permit" stamp - that this was a matter of "an administrative misunderstanding." This well-laundered phrase was not invented by that official, who meant that if until now, Khouri and others in his situation have received tourist visas every three months, that was only a "misunderstanding."
An "administrative misunderstanding?" This practice has enabled thousands of Palestinians and their spouses to live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a kind of twilight zone: not receiving residency rights from Israel, but coming and going as tourists so that they can live as Palestinians in their homeland, with their families, over the course of many years - 10, 15, and even 30. And all of a sudden someone energetic in the Interior Ministry discovered the misunderstanding and tells these people to leave?
In 2000, similarly "freshened up" rules were issued regarding Palestinians whose spouses were citizens of Arab, that is, non-Western countries. They were not permitted to return to their homes. Between 1994 and 2000, during the Oslo years, instructions were given that slowed the process of "family unification," for which tens of thousands of families in the occupied territories are waiting, to a minimum. These families are not living in Haifa or Ashkelon, but in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And despite this, in 2000, even this minimal process of family unification, which only Israel has the authority to approve, was frozen. Consequently, thousands of families were condemned to a cruel separation - between fathers and children, wives and husbands, grandparents and grandchildren.
In 1996, these same decision-makers - the Labor government and the Likud-Shas government - issued a similar order: to revoke the Jerusalem residency rights of Palestinians born in Jerusalem who were studying or working abroad, or who had built houses in neighborhoods close to Jerusalem because longstanding discriminatory policies prevented them from building in East Jerusalem. In that same spirit of demographic manipulation, Israel forbids Palestinians to move from Gaza to the West Bank, and Gaza residents living in the West Bank are considered "illegal aliens" and are deported to Gaza.
Behind the officials and the spokespeople, whose names are known, behind the "procedures" that they quote, hide the people who give the orders. Who are they? Prime ministers (from the Likud, Labor-Shas and Kadima) or "just" their interior ministers? Perhaps they are ministry directors general who know which way the wind is blowing, along with the legal advisors who back them up. This is not known. After all, they do not publish these decisions with their signatures on them. In another 50 years, the state archives containing today's documents will be opened, and then we will know.
The important thing today is that a direct line connects various similar decisions made separately, as if unconnected. The decision-makers are only waiting for the right moment to expand them, to make them harsher, to include more categories of deportees. And all this is happening without any opposition - neither from Israeli individuals and political organizations that speak loftily of peace, nor from Western countries that know only how to make demands of Palestinian governments, but claim that they cannot intervene when it comes to Israel's sovereign decisions. The sovereign decisions of an occupying state.
If the anonymous decision-makers do not come up against courageous opposition, they will continue to invent new rules that will drag us further and further down the slope of expulsion.
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