The Israel Defense Forces issued a new order last week allowing inspectors from the Interior Ministry's enforcement unit to remove any foreigners who are found to be in the West Bank without a permit.
The step, which represents a further step in the military's actions against foreign activists, was struck down in the past by the High Court of Justice, on the grounds that the Interior Ministry inspectors do not have authority in the West Bank.
The question of who is allowed to be present in the West Bank, aside from its Palestinian inhabitants, is a complex legal issue, that the IDF has addressed with various orders. For example, the IDF prohibits visitors to the West Bank for more than 48 hours without a permit.
In 2010, the army tried a new way to deal with international activists in the West Bank, who are well briefed on how to avoid illegal actions but whose presence angers the IDF.
The army used Interior Ministry inspectors in a raid into Ramallah, deep within Area A, where Palestinians have complete control according to the Oslo Accords. The inspectors took two activists, from Australia and Spain, into custody, bringing them to Israel where deportation proceedings were to be launched.
However, the two petitioned the High Court of Justice, which determined during the hearing that the inspectors did not have the authority to detain the activists, who were ordered released by Justice Asher Grunis.
The new order authorizing the Interior Ministry's enforcement unit, Oz, to act in the West Bank was signed by GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon. The unit's powers to act are broad, and do not take into consideration the division of the West Bank by the Oslo Accord into Areas A, B and C. According to the order, the unit is authorized to act not only in Area C, under Israeli control and Area B, under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control, but also in Area A, which is under full Palestinian civil and military control.
When an inspector has a reasonable suspicion that a person is in the West Bank without a permit, he can detain that person and demand to see identifying documents. Oz personnel can also remove the individuals from the West Bank to a detention facility in Israel.
However, the inspectors will not be allowed to search a home without an order signed by a military judge, who is a member of the committee that discusses bans on the presence of foreigners in the West Bank.
In Israel proper, a civilian judge must sign an order to allow Oz inspectors to search a home.
Tourists to Israel are given a three-month visa, after which they must apply to extend it. Many foreign activists overstay their visa and remain in Area A. Now they will be liable for arrest and deportation no matter where they are staying.
The IDF spokesman's office responded: "With the presence of people in Israel illegally becoming widespread, Judea and Samaria have also become a work destination for foreigners in the area without a permit. Until now the [Interior Ministry's] Population and Immigration Authority did not have powers of enforcement against those individuals. But on July 6, 2012, GOC Central Command signed an order authorizing inspectors of the Population and Immigration Authority to act in the area of Judea and Samaria to locate foreigners who are in the area illegally."