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US Criticizes Israel for Security Restrictions on Tourists

The U.S. has sharply criticized Israel for travel restrictions on Americans, mostly those with Arab origin whom Israel considers security risks.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/20/2009, 9:10 AM / Last Update: 8/20/2009, 9:37 AM

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The U.S. State Department Wednesday sharply criticized Israel for travel restrictions on Americans, mostly of Arab origin and whom Israel considers security risks. "We have made it quite known to the Israeli government ... that we expect all American citizens to be treated the same regardless of their national origin," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

Israel, in a practice that is accepted in the U.S. and in almost every other country in the world, does not allow security risks into the country. However, security officials permit them to travel in Judea and Samaria if they enter the country through the Jordanian crossing at the Allenby Bridge instead of landing at Ben Gurion Airport,

Kelly told reporters at the Department's daily press briefing that the U.S. government considers the practice “unacceptable.” He said Israel stamps some American passports with restrictions that they may enter Judea and Samaria but not Israel.

The spokesman did not refer to previous terrorist attacks that involved foreigners who traveled freely in Israel after having made contact with terrorist cells in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The State Department’s own travel advisories warn tourists of possible violence throughout Judea and Samaria as well as Israel.

The U.S. government considers the Old City in Jerusalem so dangerous that it prohibits American government personnel and their family members from traveling there “after dark during the entire week and between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays.”

The new Israeli security restrictions were put into effect several months ago, and several Americans have complained to the U.S. government.

The State Department previously has not criticized the arrangement and several months ago advised travelers, “It is important to be accurately informed about which border crossings you are permitted to use. Please consult this information sheet, Jordanian Border Crossings with the West Bank and Israel, for information and links to key offices….

“Since the spring of 2009, Israeli border officials at both the Allenby border crossing and Ben Gurion Airport have begun using a new entry visa stamp that permits travel only in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. Anyone indicating that they either have connections to the West Bank, or are planning to travel to the West Bank, may get this stamp, which does not permit them to enter into (or, in the case of Ben Gurion, return to) Green-line Israel. The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status changed; only Israeli liaison offices in the West Bank can assist -- but they rarely will.”

Several of the complaints to the State Department by American Arabs related to travel to restrictions in Gaza, where the U.S. has warned of the dangers in the Hamas-controlled area. Its travel advisory states, “The State Department strongly urges that American citizens refrain from all travel to the Gaza Strip. This recommendation has been in effect since the deadly roadside bombing of a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza in October 2003. It applies to all Americans, including journalists and aid workers."