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Israel to require West Bank visitors to declare love interest

Denounced as 'apartheid regulations', the policies set to take effect on Monday will impose restrictions on students, family and romance
A Palestinian bride is dressed in a traditional outfit on her wedding day during the Palestinian Heritage Week in the town of Birzeit near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on 3 August 2022 (AFP)

Foreigners who have started romantic relationships with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank must register with the Israeli defence ministry within 30 days, according to a controversial set of new rules aimed at isolating the Palestinian population. 

Under the regulations, first published in February to a storm of protest, a foreigner who marries a Palestinian ID holder will be required to leave the country after 27 months for a period of at least half a year. Foreign spouses visiting the West Bank will be limited to three- or six-month permits.

The rules are part of a wider crackdown on foreigners and diaspora Palestinians wanting to live, visit, work or study in the West Bank.

'This is micromanaging, with the purpose to damage the Palestinian social fabric'

- Sam Bahour, Palestinian-American businessman

Human rights groups in Palestine and Israel have denounced the policies, which are set to take effect on Monday. 

The regulations were laid out in a 97-page document and include new restrictions on Palestinian universities, such as a cap of 150 student visas and 100 foreign lecturers. These rules include universities that are in Area A of the West Bank, a fraction of territory that, under the Oslo Accords, is supposed to be under complete Palestinian control. 

Israel places no such limits on how many visiting students and foreign lecturers can attend Israeli institutions. The measures will be a major blow to student exchange programmes operated by the European Union, such as the Erasmus+ programme, among others.

Businesspeople and aid organisations have also denounced the new rules, saying they will be severely affected, as the policies place strict limitations on the duration of visas and visa extensions, in many cases preventing people from working or volunteering in the West Bank for longer than a few months. 

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"This is micromanaging, with the purpose to damage the Palestinian social fabric," said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman who moved to the West Bank from Ohio in 1995.

Under the regulations, foreign passport holders - including Palestinians living abroad - will also no longer be able to obtain visas on arrival and instead have to apply for them at least 45 days in advance.

In most cases, foreigners visiting the West Bank will no longer be able to arrive via Israel's main airport near Tel Aviv, and will instead be required to enter through the land crossing between Jordan and the West Bank. 

"This is about demographic engineering of Palestinian society and isolating Palestinian society from the outside world," Jessica Montell, executive director of the Israeli non-governmental organisation HaMoked, told the BBC

HaMoked has petitioned the Israeli High Court against the regulations.

"They make it much more difficult for people to come and work in Palestinian institutions, volunteer, invest, teach and study." 

Canadian doctor Benjamin Thomson, is also one of the 19 plaintiffs involved in the legal challenge. He said he is concerned about how the Israeli move will disrupt the work of health professionals.

"These draconian measures will severely impact their work, and impair the lives of the Palestinian people," said Thomson, director of the Keys of Health project aimed at rebuilding healthcare in the Palestinian territories.

The new rules do not apply to those visiting Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The PLO, the umbrella body representing the Palestinian people, has said that the rules bring in "apartheid regulations that impose a reality of one state and two different systems".

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