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Palestinian Americans from Gaza face discrimination as Israel visa waiver deal looms: Report

Palestinian Americans with Gazan identity papers are complaining about being discriminated against by Israel
Palestinians walk at the Kerem Shalom Gaza crossing in Rafah, on 14 May 2023 (AFP)

US citizens with families in the besieged Gaza Strip are calling on Washington to make sure they are not left behind by a visa-free travel agreement the United States is pursuing with Israel.

In July, Israel said it will allow all United States citizens, including Palestinian Americans living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, to enter the country, as part of its efforts to gain entry into the US visa waiver programme (VWP).

For years, the US has prevented Israel from joining its VWP, citing its differential treatment of some US citizens, including those of Palestinian descent.

The US has said that it will be monitoring Israel’s commitment to allowing equal access to the country before it makes a decision about whether or not to allow Israel's entry into the programme by 30 September.

During that period, Washington will also see whether Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans are disproportionately scrutinised by Israeli security, as has often been the case, with Palestinians and Arabs often finding themselves facing extra checks, tight restrictions and extensive delays.

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But Palestinian Americans with Gazan identity papers are complaining about being discriminated against by Israel.

"As a Palestinian with a Gaza ID, I was disappointed it discriminates against people like me. We are specifically excluded from benefiting from this programme," Hani Almadhoun, a Palestinian American visiting family in Gaza, told Reuters.

Madhoun said his request to travel through Israel’s Ben Gurion airport back to northern Virginia had been rejected by the Israeli authorities.

"As an American, I think we should have those benefits because Israelis now, even those Israelis who live in illegal settlements, are able to come to America without harassment," he told Reuters.

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As of Thursday, the website for the Israeli agency that interacts with Palestinians said that only US citizens holding Palestinian identity cards registered in "Judea and Samaria area" were allowed passage through Israel’s international entry points.

Judea and Samaria are the Hebrew names for the occupied West Bank.

The website adds that additional information relevant to residents of the besieged Gaza Strip would be available by 15 September. Axios previously reported that Palestinian Americans who reside in Gaza will face a more difficult situation due to "security concerns”.

According to The Arab American Institute Foundation, there are 122,500 to 220,000 Palestinian Americans, and an official US estimate says about 45,000 to 60,000 live in the West Bank.

Middle East Eye previously reported how Palestinian Americans have come under assault in the occupied West Bank by Israeli settlers, with little recourse from the US government. The violence has the potential to pit American citizens against one another. According to an estimate from 2016, American citizens account for about 15 percent of the total Israeli settler population of 450,000.

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