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Israeli travel agencies will soon have to promise not to send tourists to the West Bank

April 24, 2017 3:33 P.M. (Updated: April 25, 2017 12:20 P.M.)
Tourists visit the Nativity Church in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities have notified Israeli travel agencies that they will be forced to sign a commitment pledging not to take groups of tourists to the occupied West Bank, according to a copy the notification obtained by Ma’an on Sunday.

In the Hebrew-language document dated April 23, the Border Control Department of the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority notifies travel agencies that as of May 15, the day when Palestinians commemorate the 1948 Nakba, they will have to "attach, with each request to bring a group of tourists into the country, a special form pledging that they will not send tourists to Judea and Samaria,” using the Israeli term for the occupied West Bank.

The document only addresses Israeli tourism agencies, and not individual would-be tourists.

The forms must be signed and sent to one of three Population and Immigration Authority email addresses listed in the document.

The document warns tourism agencies that their requests to bring groups of tourists would "not be processed" if the pledge was not signed and attached.
Document from the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority

A spokesperson for the Israeli Population and Migration Authority could not immediately be reached for comment.

If implemented, the new regulation described in the document would be an additional blow to a suffering tourism industry in the occupied West Bank, which already has to contend with numerous unequal laws and restrictions that have crippled the Palestinian market, while investing millions of dollars in the Israeli market.

A number of sites which attract thousands of visitors each year, such as the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, could be affected by this directive.

“Israel's occupation and colonization of Palestine is not limited only to its military elements, but is also manifested in its use of tourism as a political tool. It is a tool used to strengthen its position as occupying power, and to maintain its domination over Palestinian land and people, but also as an instrument for the dissemination of propaganda to millions of tourists, including politicians, community leaders and journalists who receive free-of-charge first class tours to Israel,” human rights lawyer and legal researcher Amjad Alqasis wrote in 2015.

As current regulations stand, when applying for visas, Israeli tourism agencies only need to submit names and passport numbers, while Palestinian agencies attempting the same are met with administrative obstacles, and cannot guarantee that their visa requests will be accepted.

Tourists who tell Israeli border control officials of their intention to visit the occupied West Bank also face the possibility of undergoing lengthy interrogations, or even deportation for alleged security reasons, or without being provided an explanation at all.

When tourists are able to reach the occupied West Bank, they are then forced to negotiate with hundreds of Israeli checkpoints and other military obstacles that restrict movement for Palestinians both within the West Bank and along its borders with Israel and Jordan.

“Another obstacle to operating a tour is the presence of 500,000 to 600,000 illegal Israeli Jewish settlers currently living in the occupied Palestinian territory,” who “constitute a growing and consistent threat to Palestinian livelihoods,” including Palestinian tour guides, Alqasis noted.
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