Sunday, November 05, 2006

Quaker Expulsion From West Bank

My friend, Jane, an American woman, who lives in Ramallah wrote:

November 1, 2006
The couple that run the Quaker Center and Program (American Friends
Service Committee) were given one week to pack up and leave when they
entered Israel recently. In addition one of the English teachers at the
Friends School, founded and supported since decades by US and English
but mostly US Friends was denied entry, leaving noone to teach her 7th
grade English classes.
the couple are appealing and we hope for the best. Note that none of
these people are any security threat or offer anything other than
goodness, also that the US and Israel have a reciprocal agreement which
says that we have to apply the same entry/reentry/visa regulations to
each others citizens.

November 2, 2006
Note that all of these people are US citizens, and that the Friends
School has been a Western Christian institution out here for about 40
years, bringing Western values and moderation to people, increasing the
image of the West and esp Christians there, etc. A huge investment and
effort on the part of thoughtful caring Chrisitans down the decades now
being denied any assurance of crucial staff.

I believe she is mistaken about forty years. The Quakers have had an organized presence in the West Bank for over 100 years.

November 2, 2006
I sent Jane’s emails to my Meeting House through the meeting Listserve and received the following replies:

Keith wrote:
sending this offlist
Ramallah Friends was originally established if memory serves by the
aunt and uncle of Rufus Jones! That should give an idea to its original

Note the term "original" -- it is possible that the 40 year span may
refer to the school being closed for a while after israelis took control
of the West Bank in '67 6-day war. I don't know, but I would suspect
that might be the case.

On November 3 Joe wrote:
Bronwin, Is there someone we can write to, either in Israel or the US govt to express our concern about the visa difficulties of Quakers, and residents generally, in the West Bank? This is surely not in anybody's interest, no matter what you think about the situation there. Jim
My reply:
Yes, write your US Congressman and object strongly tothis outrage. I've had a meeting with my Congressman who has promised to help to resolve this. I had hoped all Friends would have volunteered to do something. You are the only one I've heard from.

Joe’s letter to him Congressman:
I have recently learned that Israel has apparently adopted a new policyof not renewing visas for long-time residents of the West Bank who are not citizens. This has affected many Americans, both of Palestinian and non-Palestinian descent. It has disrupted countless families, and interfered with international efforts to promote peace and understanding.
I have a personal interest because my religious faith, the Society of Friends (Quakers) has for many decades operated a school in Ramallah, which is now starting to have difficulties maintaining residence visasfor its staff. I fully understand the that Israeli-Palestinian situation is complicated and does not lend itself to easy solutions. I have long resisted seeing either side as all "right" or all "wrong." But preventing the very poeple (such as the Quakers of Ramallah and others) who are working to promote peace and mutual understanding from continuing to live and work on the West Bank can be in nobody's interest, at least not anybody who desires a peaceful solution.
The United States has tremendous influence with Israel, and still enjoys considerable credibility as a potential peacemaker on both sides. Please use whatever influence you can personally to persuade Israel to reverse its recent policy change regarding renewal of visas for peaceful, ordinary residents who cleary pose no security threat (even the Israeli government is not claiming that they do).
Thank you.
November 4, 2006
From Raymond,
This news piqued my curiosity, and so I telephoned Bill Pierre
who runs the Middle East desk at AFSC to find out what is going
on. He says that there has been a shift in policies by the Israelis
regarding work visas that they issue to foreigners working in
Palestine. This change happens to affect Quakers disproportionately
although it is not targeted at Quakers.

One shift in policy affects ex-patriot Palestinians no matter what
country they are now citizens of. Their work visas are not being
renewed. I think that a number of such people are Friends and/or
are employed by the Ramallah Friends Meeting or the Friends
International Center in Ramallah.

Another shift affects the many foreign workers of any origin who work
for international organizations and who in the past have been 3-month
work visas, which I believe is a majority of such workers. The old
policy for many decades has been that the 3-month work visas would be
regularly re-issued upon request. This worked out well for many
teachers whose semesters could fit within such 3-month periods,
although I think they would have to leave the country at Christmas and
Spring breaks and re-enter upon approval. Again, this arrangement had
been in effect for decades. Now such visas are not renewed. A select
few international workers are granted annual visas which are expected
to be renewed despite the other policy chsnges, but it is unikely that
a larger number of these visas will be issued. The many international
workers who had relied upon 3-month visas to work in Palestine are
now largely out in the cold.

Bill Pierre says that usually these kinds of policy changes are made
by a decision of the Israeli parliament, however at this time the
shift appears to have been initiated internally within one of the
Israeli government ministries. There is also supposed to be an
arrangement in place where re-approved visas for Palestine may be
granted if certain officials, one from the Israeli government and
one from the Palestinian government, both agree on the list who who
shall be approved. But discussions between Israeli and Palestinian
officials have broken down because of the larger situation, and
apparently some lower level Israeli bureaucrats have taken

Concerns about these issues have been taken up at the highest
diplomatic levels by various countries who have citizens working in
Palstine, including by U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice. A
solution does not seem imminent. It's a bit of a mess.

Thanks to Bill Pierre for the info. Thanks to Chris Pifer for
referring me to Bill.

My reply to Raymond:
Dear Raymond,
Thank you for obtaining this information and emailingit to me and the Listserve. I'm always interested in motivation. Regardless of what branch or level of the Israeli government the policy change was made the Palestinians I know believe the reason for the expulsion is a deliberate attempt by the Israeli government to remove foreign witnesses to an another imminent major land grab. In recent decades Palestinians have been very successful living in the abroad and they own homes and acreage in the West Bank.
Palestinians who do not work in the West Bank and only want to return for visits are also denied re-enty. Refusing the reentry, makes it easier for the Israelis to confiscate their land and unoccupied homes.

I was emailed an article this week that declared the Israelis had backed down on refusing the three month VISA to American citizens entitledf: Israel backs down on VISAS for Palestinians from US By Harry de Quetteville in Ramallah. I tested it yesterday morning. I called the Israeli Embassy in DC to see if I can get a VISA before leaving for Israel. I was told I would have to apply for the VISA after I arrive in Tel Aviv and I may be granted three months. I may be granted 2 to 3 days "for security purposes". (I'm a grandmother in my sixties, currently walking with a cane?) That means I can not return to the lovely little house in the village I inherited in February from my husband.

November 4, 2006
From John, another member of my Quaker meeting house:

Yes, I did receive it. I am sorry not to have replied
sooner, but I have been very busy, and I leave
tomorrow for a two week trip to Israel/Palestine
myself. I will let you know more about what I learn
when I get back. I keep hearing more stories, and the
situation keeps changing.


to be continued


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