Israel ‘Divorces’ Palestinian Families

RAMALLAH — Adding insult to the Palestinian injury, Israel has tightened visa measures for Palestinian expatriates, separating thousands of families.

"This is the first time in history I have heard of an occupation that divorces people," Palestinian economics professor Adel Samara told Reuters on Thursday, September 21.

Samara, 62, has not seen his American wife since May after Israel denied her access into the Palestinian territories.

"My kids miss her dreadfully," added Samara.

Like thousands of expatriates of Palestinian origin, Samara’s wife Enayeh has been entering the occupied West Bank for years on a tourist visa because of the difficulty getting permanent residency cards or other permits issued by Israel.

But since the new Hamas-led government came to power, Israel has tightened up on the use of tourist visas, which had been renewable every three months by leaving the West Bank and returning again.

Samara said Israeli authorities had prevented him from leaving the West Bank since 2003 for no apparent reason.

Israel has tightened the siege on the Palestinian people since Hamas’s sweeping election win.

It has also suspended the monthly payment of customs duties, worth more than 50 million dollars, it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority on goods that transit through its territory.

This further added to the US-led international aid freeze, triggering a severe humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories.

Last Permit

In many cases, Israeli authorities have been writing "last permit" on the tourist visa, giving shorter stays or refusing entry altogether for Palestinian expatriates.

Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who moved to Ramallah after the 1993 Oslo peace accords, was one of those affected by the Israeli visa restrictions.

An immigration official wrote "last permit" on Bahour’s US passport. He has until October 1 to leave.

Bahour, 41, has been seeking a residency card since 1994.

"If (the Israelis) were looking for modernization, they would be looking for people such as myself," said Bahour, standing in a $10-million shopping mall he developed with other investors in Ramallah.

While Bahour’s Palestinian wife has a green card to enter the US and his daughters have American citizenship, other families were being split up.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem slammed the visa restrictions as an attempt to undermine the potentials of building a modern Palestinian state.

"Israel is banning people who can contribute to building a well-developed society," said spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.

The group said Israel had frozen 120,000 Palestinian family reunification requests since Al-Aqsa intifada broke out in 2000.

Joyce Ajlouny, director of the Friends School in Ramallah, which is owned by the US Quakers, worries about six American teachers, some of Palestinian origin, who have to renew their tourist visas shortly.

"We feel the likelihood of them being denied entry is quite high and we could be left in limbo, not knowing what to do with educating these kids." (September 21, 2006)

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