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Israel barred more than 10,000 Palestinians from travelling abroad in 2021

Rights organisations say the policy targets Palestinian arbitrarily and restricts their freedom of movement
A car drives past a road signal indicating the Allenby Bridge crossing point to Jordan in the Palestinian city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, 28 January 2021 (AFP)

Israel barred more than 10,000 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from travelling abroad in 2021, according to a report by an Israeli rights group.

Al-Karameh Bridge, known as Allenby Bridge in Israel, is the only land crossing with Jordan that Palestinians in the West Bank can use to travel abroad. 

According to HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organisation based in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities who control the bridge crossing blocked Palestinians from travelling, claiming that they had relatives involved in "terrorism".

HaMoked submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to acquire these figures from the Israeli Ministry of Defence's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat).

Palestinians in the West Bank are not allowed to use Israeli airports, instead they have to go through three different immigration officers when they want to travel abroad: a Palestinian Authority officer; an Israeli; and a Jordanian officer on the other side of the crossing.

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In 2017, Israel listed almost 13,937 Palestinians on a travel ban for "security reasons". In 2021, the figure dropped to 10,594. Haaretz reported on Wednesday that many Palestinian were barred from travelling after a ban was set automatically by computer.

Palestinians have asked for the bans to be revoked, and an Israeli court has approved 50 percent of these requests.

In 2021, 339 Palestinians submitted repeal requests, and 143, almost 49 percent, were approved.

In 2019, when Cogat started storing data of Palestinians contesting the travel bans, 838 applications were submitted to repeal the ban, of which 352 were approved. 

'Lightly and arbitrarily'

Palestinians have to submit a repeal application within eights weeks of the ban. According to HaMoked, the travel ban policy is conducted in an "arbitrary manner". 

In some cases where the repeal has been denied, the Palestinian in question would receive a reply from Cogat telling them "You are a Hamas operative," according to Haaretz, as a justification for the ban.

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Leith Abu Zeyad, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank who works for Amnesty International, was banned from travelling abroad for two years after being tied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The ban was revoked in December after he petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court.

HaMoked said that in some cases, Israeli officers have asked Palestinians to sign a form declaring that they would "refrain from terrorism".

The bridge between the West Bank and Jordan is known as al-Karameh Bridge for Palestinians, Allenby Bridge for Israelis and King Hussain Bridge for Jordanians.

Jessica Montell, the executive director for HaMoked, said Palestinians on their way to study, visit family, for business or medical treatment, only find out about their travel ban after arriving at the bridge.

"It is clear from this that this restriction, which severely violates the right to freedom of movement, is imposed lightly and arbitrarily," Montell said.

Cogat, which is staffed by Israeli army officers, has an overarching power over civilian matters in the West Bank and is mandated to approve water, road, electricity and housing projects proposed by the Palestinian Authority.

On Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Cogat plans to decide which foreign lecturers are allowed to teach in Palestinian universities in the West Bank and what topics they are allowed to teach.

Cogat has issued a new set of rules that will allow Palestinian institutions in higher education to employ lecturers from abroad only if they meet specific criteria defined by Israel.

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