No, BBC, Israel Never Required ‘Love Declarations’
In a recent article entitled “Israeli rules say West Bank visitors must declare love interest,” the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Yolande Knell, launched a scathing critique of Israel’s new regulations concerning the entry of foreigners into Palestinian-majority areas of Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control.
In a bid to present these new regulations as draconian and excessive, Knell resorts to obfuscations and over-simplifications that fail to accurately portray the true nature of these rules. In particular, the two issues that are most misrepresented in the article are the ordinances related to foreign spouses of Palestinians, and the regulations concerning foreign employment and volunteering in Area C.
In the opening paragraphs of the article, Knell asserts that “Foreigners must tell the Israeli defence ministry if they fall in love with a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank, according to new rules. If they marry, they will be required to leave after 27 months for a cooling-off period of at least half a year.”
A few paragraphs further down, the BBC continues, “The regulations laid out in a lengthy document include a demand on foreigners to inform the Israeli authorities within 30 days of starting a relationship with a Palestinian ID holder.”
Between these paragraphs and the article’s title, which refers to West Bank visitors being required to declare a “love interest,” the reader gets the impression that Israel’s new regulations are some Orwellian attempt at controlling every aspect of the lives of Palestinians, including love and intimacy.
However, an examination of the “lengthy document” put out by COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) shows that this is not at all the intention of these new regulations.
Contrary to what may be inferred from Knell’s report, no foreigner needs to inform the government that they are involved in a casual relationship with a Palestinian. Rather, as stated explicitly on page 30 of the regulations, the government only needs to be informed 30 days out from an engagement ceremony, wedding ceremony, or beginning of cohabitation.
This is due to the fact that the status of the foreigner has changed. It is imperative to note that similar regulations exist concerning a foreigner who wishes to come to Israel in order to marry an Israeli citizen.
Second, Knell writes that “If they marry, they will be required to leave after 27 months for a cooling-off period of at least half a year.”
The latter is simply not true.
Rather, once they declare their relationship, the foreign partner can apply for a formalization of status. If this formalization is approved by both the Palestinian Authority and COGAT, then the foreign partner will receive a Palestinian ID number and will be registered in the Palestinian population register, as stated on page 71 of the regulations.
However, if the formalization of status is denied, then the foreign partner may receive a spousal permit, which allows them to live in Area C with their Palestinian partner for up to 27 months (noted on pages 73 and 74 of the regulations).
With regards to the six-month “cooling-off period” that Knell mentions, this only appears in the regulations (on page 61) with regards to a foreign spouse who has come to visit their Palestinian partner. As they do not live in the West Bank, they are allowed to enter for three months (in exceptional circumstances, they are allowed to stay for six months), and then must leave once their visa expires. After six months, they are then allowed to apply for another three-month visa.
Thus, it seems that in her report, Knell has combined three different statuses (spouse with formal status, spouse with spousal permit, and spouse with visitor’s visa) into one, leaving the reader without a proper understanding of the regulations concerning foreign partners of Palestinians in Area C.
Aside from her report on the regulations concerning foreign spouses, Knell’s piece also focuses on the regulations concerning foreigners who wish to work or volunteer in the Palestinian locales of Area C. However, just like her reporting on foreign spouses, Knell’s portrayal of these regulations is misleading and deceptive.
Regarding the quota on foreign lecturers and students, Knell writes “New restrictions on Palestinian universities include a quota for 150 student visas and 100 foreign lecturers.” While this might be true, this is not the whole truth.
As stated explicitly on page 83 of the regulations, there is a visa quota for students and “lecturers in necessary fields.” However, there is no quota on the number of guest lecturers that can teach in Palestinian universities.
Additionally, Knell writes that “The rules set strict limitation 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.” This makes it seem like anyone who wishes to work or volunteer with Palestinians in Area C will only get a visa for three or four months.
However, an analysis of the regulations shows that this is not the case.
With regards to volunteers, both pages 45 and 48 of the regulations state that a volunteer visa is good for up to 12 months.
Similarly, pages 48 and 49 of the regulations state that a visa for an employee of an international organization, foreigners who are necessary for a commercial enterprise, and foreign businesspeople and investors is good for up to 27 months. Even the visa with the least time duration, for guest lecturers at Palestinian universities, is good for up to 5 months.
Lastly, Knell writes that “The new rules completely exclude nationals of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and South Sudan – although these countries have diplomatic ties with Israel. Holders of passports from these countries – including dual nationals – can only enter the West Bank in exceptional and humanitarian cases for a limited period.”
However, as stated on page 7 of the regulations, the difference is that citizens of these countries must obtain a visit permit from the Palestinian Authority — which is not at all how Knell portrays these regulations.
Notably, since the publication of this piece, COGAT has revised its regulations and removed the requirement to declare a relationship 30 days after the engagement, wedding, or cohabitation, as well as the quotas on foreign students and lecturers.
Regardless of one’s personal feelings regarding Israel’s regulations in Judea and Samaria, it is incumbent upon all journalists to report the facts objectively and without distortions or misleading statements.