JERUSALEM (Jul. 20)
Israel will establish a body of rules and procedures for processing American tourists who may be security risks or are likely to overstay their visas, it was announced Monday.
The decision by a panel of senior officials was apparently in response to expressions of “serious concern” by the U.S. State Department that Americans of Palestinian origin and Black Hebrews from the U.S. were subjected to harassment by Israeli authorities when they arrived in the country and that many were denied admission after interrogation.
The panel, headed by Yossi Beilin, Political Director General of the Foreign Ministry, consisted of representatives of the Interior and Tourism ministries and the security services. The State Department has indicated it might issue a travel advisory warning Palestinian and Black Americans that they could face difficulties entering Israel. Such a warning could have adverse effects on Israeli tourism in general.
The panel decided that a senior government official would be put in charge of interrogations, that the room where tourists are interrogated at Ben Gurion Airport will be renovated and that tourists held there will have the opportunity to telephone their families, lawyers or the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. The same rules apparently will apply to tourists entering Israel via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan.
It was also decided that the U.S. Embassy will be asked to appoint a liaison officer to deal with disputes arising from the cases of American tourists denied entry to Israel.
Security sources were quoted Monday as saying that the changes may result in an increase of terrorist activity in Israel. According to those sources, “the security check-up of suspects including Americans, has prevented terrorist activities.”
The Interior Ministry claimed that more than 2,000 American citizens of Palestinian origin who arrived here as tourists remained illegally after their visas expired. Most Palestinian Americans who come to Israel as tourists are on visits to their families in Israel or in the administered territories.
Black Hebrews are denied admission because they claim the right as Jews to remain under the Law of Return. The religious authorities have determined that Black Hebrews are not Jews.
The State Department said in Washington last week that about 40 Arab Americans and 35 Black Hebrews have complained that they were denied entry to Israel or had their passports confiscated. “We have continued to express our deep concern to Israel about discriminatory, arbitrary treatment of some American citizens,” State Department spokesman Charles Redman said.
Israeli sources were quoted as saying that Israel’s treatment of American visitors was lenient compared to the tough handling of many Israelis by American immigration authorities.