'Extremely Arbitrary' Travel Bans Stop Thousands of Palestinians From Going Abroad

More than 10,000 Palestinians were issued travel bans by Israel in 2021, and many of them only find out at the border

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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File photo: Travelers at the Allenby Bridge crossing from the West Bank into Jordan.
File photo: Travelers at the Allenby Bridge crossing from the West Bank into Jordan.Credit: Emil Salman
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Israel prohibited 10,594 West Bank Palestinians from traveling abroad last year but granted nearly half of the appeals against the travel bans that were filed.

The figures were released by the Israeli Civil Administration following a freedom of information petition by HaMoked. The organization had filed the petition after the Civil Administration failed to respond to an FOI request for a period of nine months. According to the figures, last year Israel barred 10,594 Palestinians from traveling abroad due to security reasons, compared to 13,937 in 2017. This figure does not include Palestinians who turned up at a border, but rather to those Israel has imposed a travel ban on.

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Palestinians wishing to travel abroad must pass through the Allenby Bridge crossing controlled by Israel, and from there continue to an airport in Jordan. Over the years, many Palestinians have arrived at the crossing, unaware that they were barred from travel, and were thus unable to cross.

A source who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity said that in many cases the ban was automatic – for example, in the case of relatives of persons involved in terrorism – and that upon appeal each case was examined individually with many bans were ultimately lifted.

The Civil Administration has only collected data on requests to repeal travel bans from 2019. According to the administration’s data, in 2021, there were 339 appeals against travel bans, of which 143 (49 percent) were granted. The fact that nearly half the appeals were granted suggests that the bans are extremely arbitrary. In 2019 there were 838 appeals of travel bans, 352 (42 percent) of which were granted.

The Civil Administration has eight weeks to respond to appeals. According to the agency’s data, it met that requirement about 70 percent of the time in the past three years.

As for appeals that were denied, the reason for the ban was given in a single sentence, such as: “You are a Hamas activist.” In such cases, some Palestinians submit a procedural appeal against the travel ban.

Laith Abu Zeyad, a West Bank resident who is an activist employee of Amnesty International, was banned from traveling overseas for a two-year period. He first discovered this in 2019 when he tried to leave the West Bank for the funeral of a relative in Jordan. The Jerusalem District Court denied a procedural appeal of the ban on the grounds that he is involved in the activity of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Abu Zeyad categorically denies this. In December, following an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, the travel ban was repealed. A short while afterward, Zeyad flew to London, where he now works as a campaigner for Amnesty International.

Over the years, HaMoked has documented cases in which requests for the repeal of travel bans were not responded to within eight weeks, and only when a procedural appeal was filed, it responded and repealed the ban. In one case in 2019, a lecturer from the Nablus area requested a permit to travel overseas to participate in a masterclass for short-story writers in Germany. The lecturer only found out a travel ban had been in place against him when he arrived at the Allenby Crossing in June. He submitted an appeal a month later, but did not receive a response until the end of September, after submitting a procedural appeal. His travel ban was then repealed.

In other cases, Israel required Palestinians who have been banned from traveling overseas to sign a form, saying they would “refrain from involvement in terrorism.” In 2020, a Palestinian whose brother had cancer and was hospitalized in Egypt came to the Allenby Crossing in order to travel to see his brother. He was not allowed to travel and the ban was only repealed after he filed an appeal, and on condition that he sign a guarantee that he would not be involved in terrorism. When he returned to the border crossing, he was detained by a Shin Bet security service officer who asked him to sign an additional guarantee which stated that if he violated the terms he would not be allowed to leave the West Bank again. In light of the fact that he was required to sign a different guarantee at the border, Judge Moshe Sobol of the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the state should pay the appellant’s legal expenses.

An inspection terminal at the Allenby Bridge crossing in 2014.Credit: David Bachar

Jessica Montel, executive deputy director of HaMoked says that, "At any given moment, there are more than 10,000 people on the Shin Bet’s blacklist, which prevents them from leaving the West Bank to travel abroad. This is without any prior notice, explanation, or hearing. For the most part, the reason is only revealed when someone turns up at the Allenby Bridge, with a suitcase and a flight ticket they have purchased on their way to visit family, to study, work, or for medical treatment. It is only at the bridge, when the army prevents them from leaving, that they discover that they have had a travel ban imposed against them. Over the years the center has dealt with hundreds of such cases and in most of them, after reservations are submitted to the army, the ban is repealed and persons are free to travel. Thus, it is clear that this restriction – which severely harms the rights to freedom of movement – is imposed arbitrarily.”

A Shin Bet spokesman said: “The military commander is in charge of security and public order at all crossings in [the West Bank]. And it is within his authority to prevent an individual from leaving the area. The commander is instructed to weigh the security risk in responding to a request, entirely or in part. This in order to prevent persons from abusing freedom of movement, due to the importance of freedom of movement to the area and back. In light of the enormous importance of freedom of movement, the Shin Bet’s recommendations rely on information it possesses that points to a real threat to security that would result directly from the applicant's travel abroad."

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