Following Gisha advocacy, Palestinians will be allowed into Eilat

November 9, 2015. For years, almost every Israeli entry permit issued for Palestinian ID Card holders included an exclusion “Except Eilat” (Hebrew). No one could name the reasons for this policy. When we asked the authorities to explain it, the answer we received was that “this is a long-standing policy and, unfortunately, the documents relevant to the discussions that led to the policy decision have not been located”. A letter from the public liaison officer for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) (Hebrew), sent in response to a communication from Gisha (Hebrew) on this issue, said staff work would be undertaken to look into the matter.

This apparently esoteric decision, yet another secret law limiting Palestinian movement, has had an effect on people’s lives – for instance, Palestinians students enrolled in programs offered by the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (who had already had trouble getting permits to attend programs). Eilat is the closest city to the Arava Institute, and students from around the world attending Arava Institute programs require access Eilat to get medical treatment, and also as part of their studies.

Two years passed since we first contacted COGAT on this matter, two years in which COGAT persisted in its refusal to allow Palestinians into Eilat other than in exceptional cases. When we received the November 2015 version of the “Status of permits for the entry into Israel of Palestinians, for overseas departures and the crossing points between Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip” (a document listing the restrictions on commercial and individual movement imposed on Palestinians), we were happy to see it contained a clause on entry by Palestinians to Eilat, stating that permits would be issued for:  “participation in professional conventions that take place in Eilat and the Arava area, merchants for business needs, travel agents with an interest in the city, BMC and VIP certificate holders, Palestinian officials, participants in Arava Institute programs and exceptional humanitarian cases”.