COGAT’s amended “Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area”
Campaign Status: Ongoing
On 20 October 2022, new procedures for entry and residence of foreigners in the ‘Judea and Samaria area’ (i.e. the Occupied West Bank) issued by the Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (‘COGAT’), went into effect.
The new procedures (‘COGAT22’), initially issued in February 2022 and revised in September following numerous objections, contain provisions which impose extortionate charges on visitors, explicitly allow for their surveillance, curtail investment and trade, and are fundamentally illegal . Under international law Israel, as an occupying power, cannot act as a sovereign over the Palestinian people within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). COGAT22 is a clear attempt to further Israel’s control over the OPT.
COGAT22 completely discriminates against nationals of, or people born in, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and South Sudan, who are excluded from applying for visas that would allow them to enter the OPT, unless there are exceptional and humanitarian circumstances. COGAT22 restrictions extend to British citizens who are dual nationals with one of the above listed countries, or who were born in those countries.
The ICJP are working together with other civil society organisations through the Right to Enter Campaign (RTE), to tackle the legal, political and social implications of this discriminatory and arbitrary entry regime.
“In fact, the motivations underlying the new COGAT procedure appear to be a matter of ‘demographic engineering’ and the isolating of Palestinian society as part of perpetuating the prolonged Israeli occupation and denying Palestinian self- determination and freedom. (…) Palestinian institutions must be able to set their own policies and priorities regarding recruitment of volunteers, students, lecturers and other workers from foreign countries.”Letter from 16 Human Rights organisations in Israel to Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
The Issue in depth
From the start of its belligerent occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory in 1967, Israel imposed its control over all borders into the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and declared the West Bank a closed military zone. Since 1967, Israel has also administered the population registries for all Palestinians in the oPt, using this control to determine and restrict who may enter the area, who must leave and/or be deported, and who is considered a resident of the OPT and may be registered in the relevant population registry.
Following Israel’s arbitrary and increased denials of entry and residency in the OPT to foreign nationals in 2006, and a subsequent diplomatic and public backlash, Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit, COGAT, issued a three-page set of written procedures on the entry of foreign nationals into the oPt’s West Bank. Ever since, those three pages have been interpreted by Israeli authorities in widely differing ways, resulting in their application lacking any clarity, consistency or transparency.
This arbitrary process on entry and residency led to the denial of entry and residency to large numbers of foreign nationals, gratuitously harming Palestinian family life, civil and public life and Palestinian institutions. The situation worsened further in 2017, when visas started being granted to foreign nationals for even shorter durations than previously, and instances of arbitrary denials and the introduction of haphazard, sudden new visa conditions drastically increased. Between 2016 and 2018, over half the foreign national staff of Palestinian universities were reported as having difficulty securing visa renewals while in, or when entering, the OPT.
In response to protest and requests for clarification from various actors, COGAT informed diplomats, lawyers, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) that it was working on a new procedure on the entry and residency of foreign nationals. That new “Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area” was finally issued in February 2022, but provoked wide public and diplomatic criticism.
The numerous objections to the content of the newly published procedure from various actors led to the current adjustments being made by COGAT, and its publication of a new version of the procedure which went into effect on 20 October 2022, for a purported “2-year pilot period”.
“The new policy illustrates the degree to which Israel refuses to let go of its desire to control every aspect of the lives of Palestinians and their families. The drafters of the policy have made clear that for Palestinians, there is no basic right to family life. COGAT has granted itself the authority to deny family unification applications on “general policy grounds” – a means of ensuring that Israel wins the demographic war.”Yotam Ben-Hillel, Israeli lawyer dealing with West Bank, including East-Jerusalem, immigration cases.
The published amended procedure formalises and aggravates many of the arbitrary restrictions already in place. It puts in writing pre-existing unwritten rules and restrictions, as well as adopting new ones, that are without credible justifications or grounds under applicable international law, and will therefore cause gratuitous harm to the affected persons and their civil and public life:
- Israel will continue to restrict entry and residency in the oPt for foreign nationals who are spouses, parents, relatives, or children of Palestinian West Bank ID holders, and will force many families to move or stay abroad to maintain their family unity (“silent transfer”).
- The new version of the procedures will also gravely and arbitrarily restrict the opportunities for local institutions in various sectors, including the higher education, civil society, and private sectors, to seek, hire and retain staff they need based on their own assessments, and will isolate the oPt’s West Bank through its severe limitations on visitors and other categories of persons from the rest of the world, including the Palestinian diaspora.
ICJP contends that COGAT22 will have a devastating effect on Palestinian aspirations to develop freely and to achieve self-determination for a number of reasons that include, but are not limited to the concretisation of an illegal and oppressive occupation, by providing support for the Israeli Government’s position that it rejects any recognition of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as being occupied under international law, which will:
- bolster the apartheid rule of the Israeli Government and army over the Palestinian population it controls;
- sever the OPTs international connections further, by treating foreigners and those seeking to exclusively work with, visit, or volunteer for Palestinian organisations and individuals under an entirely discriminatory regime;
- create a situation of chronic uncertainty for thousands of families, businesses, cultural and academic institutions based in the OPT by restricting and preventing travel of loved ones, business partners and essential foreign expertise;
- increase intrusive surveillance, already extensive through the use of iris scanning technologies, data banks based on iris scans, social media surveillance etc as well as entrenched, pervasive and destructive methods of informant and collaborator systems, used by the occupation forces. COGAT22 further encourages the application procedure as a method of intelligence gathering to conduct surveillance of Palestinian society, by requiring disclosure of the visitors’ intended movements and assets;
- damage Palestinian development, international trade and relations;
- disconnect Palestinians in the OPT from the Palestinian population in diaspora and living as refugees;
- restrict International visibility of the situation of apartheid, military occupation and repression of Palestinians living under Israeli military control, by restricting the reporting on the situation by visitors, volunteers, and journalists. This aspect of the impact of these rules should be viewed in the light of the systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces and other attacks on civil society organisations, for example the designation as terrorist organisations of the main Palestinian human rights groups in 2022.
Fenced Off Report
In July 2023, ICJP publicly released a report entitled ‘Fenced Off: Israel’s 2022 rules on entry of foreign nationals into the West Bank’.
The report was released in collaboration with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and supported by members of the Right to Enter campaign, and it was co-authored by Dania Abul Haj and Ilora Choudhury of ICJP.