5 Things to Remember When Covering Israel & the U.S. Visa Waiver Program

June 29, 2023
5 Things to Remember When Covering Israel & the U.S. Visa Waiver Program

1. Since Israel was established in 1948, it has systematically discriminated against and harassed U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin when they try to visit their homeland.

  • Palestinians and anyone suspected of being sympathetic to them, particularly other people of color, are systematically discriminated against and routinely harassed by Israeli border officials when trying to enter or leave Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli military (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza). This includes lengthy and intrusive questioning, demands for access to email and social media accounts, confiscation of personal electronic devices, and strip searches. Often, they are held for hours, denied entry, and sent directly back to their point of origin.
  • As noted by a group of U.S. senators in a letter to the Biden administration in May 2023 urging it to make sure all U.S. citizens are treated equally by Israel before granting inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program:

"None of the 40 countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program apply such discriminatory laws, policies and practices against certain groups of U.S. citizens… To date, however, we have seen no statements from the Government of Israel regarding actions or intentions to change current practices and policies that negatively impact U.S. citizens on the basis of their religion, national origin, or ethnicity, especially in the case of Palestinian-Americans or Arab Americans."

2. Under the proposed new system, Palestinians will still be subject to a discriminatory system governed by Israel’s occupying army.

  • Under the proposed new rules negotiated by Israel and the Biden administration, Palestinian-Americans will still be singled out from other U.S. citizens for separate and unequal treatment and have to apply for permission from Israel’s occupying army to enter the West Bank. This is the exact opposite of the reciprocity and equality that is supposed to be non-negotiable standards for admission into the program, enshrining Israel’s racist treatment of U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin.
  • The State Department has been scaling down and lowering its demands of Israel in an effort to help it qualify for entry into the program, at the expense of the rights of Palestinian-Americans, and in violation of the statutory requirements of the program under U.S. law.

3. Under international law, Israel has no right to stop Palestinians from entering the occupied territories.

  • As noted by Human Rights Watch in a January 2023 statement condemning new rules restricting the entry of foreigners to the occupied Palestinian territories:

“While countries have wide discretion over entry into their sovereign territory, international humanitarian law requires occupying powers to act in the best interest of the occupied population or to maintain security or public order. There are no apparent justifications based on security, public order, or the best interests of Palestinians for how significantly Israeli authorities restrict volunteers, academics, or students from entering the West Bank or Palestinians’ loved ones from remaining on a long-term basis… Israel’s duties as an occupying power require it to facilitate foreigners’ entry to the West Bank in an orderly manner.”

4. Israel allows U.S. citizens and others visiting Israeli settlements built illegally on occupied Palestinian land to enter freely.

  • While Palestinians and their supporters are regularly harassed and denied entry, Israel allows U.S. citizens and other foreigners who want to visit Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank in flagrant violation of international law and official U.S. policy to come and go freely.

5. Israel’s discrimination against Palestinian-Americans is part of a racist system that all major human rights organizations have concluded amounts to apartheid.

Israel has established and maintained an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis – a system of apartheid – wherever it has exercised control over Palestinians’ lives since 1948… This has been complemented by a legal regime that controls (by negating) the rights of Palestinian refugees residing outside Israel and the OPT to return to their homes.”