Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2007, page 46

Arab-American Activism

New Group Works for “MY Right to Enter/Reenter” Territories

Kathy Bergen describes Israel’s policy of deportation and denial of reentry for Palestinian-Americans and internationals (Staff photo J. Najjab).

KATHY BERGEN, coordinator of the Friends International Center in Ramallah, presented a talk on “Israel’s Exclusion of Palestinian Americans from Palestine: Challenges and Opportunities,” at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC on March 27.

In March of 2006, Bergen told her audience, Israel implemented a policy of deportation of and denial of re-entry to Palestinians with U.S. citizenship, as well as internationals sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Since that time thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of internationals have been denied entry into Palestine, either through the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv or the bridges from Jordan. “The issues surrounding this campaign are complex and have not received much attention outside of Palestine, yet are critical to the development of Palestine,” Bergen said. “If the current trends continue, Palestine will soon be a ”˜land without a people.’”

In response to the Israeli actions, the MYRTOE (MY Right to Enter/Reenter) Campaign was launched by Palestinian Americans and internationals living in the occupied territories. One of the group’s founders is the well-known Palestinian-American activist and businessman Sam Bahour, whose wife and children are allowed to stay in the region because they have Palestinian IDs, which are issued by the Israeli Ministry of Interior. Sam Bahour only has an American passport, however, and lives with the constant fear that the Israeli Authority may not allow him to return and join his family every time he leaves the country.

MYRTOE’s activities and goals are quite straightforward. They document cases of entry and re-entry denials; call on the world community to speak out against Israeli actions of family separation and denial of internationals to the area; establish an international and political campaign to stop these Israeli policies and practices; persuade the embassies of those affected by these injustices to formally protest to the government of Israel; and, finally, inform international media outlets about these practices.

Due in part to MYRTOE’s efforts, since March of this year many of those living in the occupied territories affected by the Israeli policy have received extensions to their overstayed visas or have been given visas despite the fact that their passports have been stamped “denied entry.” Nevertheless, this action does not ease the suffering of everyone living in the occupied territories. Bergen explained that the new policy “does not solve the problem for the 120,000 families living apart or living ”˜illegally’ in the West Bank because they do not have family reunification documents, which Israel stopped giving after the beginning of the second intifada.”

Despite the recent changes, there are still several cases of individuals being denied entry and others still being denied visa extensions. Bergen described the case of a doctor in Bethlehem who has a Canadian passport and is the medical director of Saint John’s Eye Hospital in Hebron. He was refused an extension on his visa and was never told the reason for the denial. If he travels from Bethlehem to the hospital he most certainly will be stopped at a checkpoint and be arrested and deported from the country for having an expired visa. So he spends his day in Bethlehem. Of course, the hospital’s day-to-day operation is hindered by the absence of its competent director.

“Many Palestinian institutions are affected in very serious ways when professionals are denied entry and not allowed to work in the West Bank,” Bergen said. “It’s a tragedy all around—for individuals, for families, for institutions and for Palestinians.”

For more information visit MYRTOE’s Web site at <http://www.righttoenter.ps/>.

Jamal Najjab