US & Israel Visa Waiver MOU Does NOT Guarantee Equal Treatment

US & Israel Visa Waiver MOU Does NOT Guarantee Equal Treatment

Washington, D.C. | | July 26, 2023 – Last week the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel. The MOU was signed in relation to the admission of Israel to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). A major focus of the MOU is the treatment of Arab and Palestinian passengers by Israel at ports of entry. For decades Israel has subjected U.S. citizen travelers of Arab and Palestinian descent, to humiliating searches, delays, restrictions on movement, among many other degrading practices. Prior to issuing this statement and our position, ADC monitored the impact of the MOU on Arab and Palestinian travelers entering Israel over the past week.

Although it is not a large sample, and it is still early on in the process, our initial assessment is that although there have been positive changes in the admission process, the MOU and current Israeli policies do not guarantee fully equal and reciprocal treatment for all Americans. This is significant as entry into the VWP requires that the cooperating nation treats all U.S. citizens equally, and that a blue passport is a blue passport.

ADC has received reports from community members entering Israel. Some of these reports were positive, however some detailed negative experiences consistent with prior treatment of Arab and Palestinians by Israel. While we continue to seek clarity on what is contained in the MOU, it is clear that the reporting of travel experiences generally, and issues encountered specifically, will play a significant role in the U.S.’s decision making. At the moment, the low number of reports that have been made prevents any rigorous analysis from taking place. ADC strongly encourages anyone traveling to Palestine or Israel complete this travel experience survey and immediately report any issues to the U.S. Embassy using this online form.

As mentioned, ADC is aware of reports that some Palestinian Americans are experiencing easier travel, including the use of Ben Gurion Airport. However we urge serious caution in ascribing these anecdotes to a permanent change in policy. As written in the MOU, the system which will control entry into Israel does not need to be operational prior to admission into the VWP nor does reciprocity need to be completely implemented prior to a final decision. All that is required is four to six weeks of observation using self-reported data from the Israeli government. The MOU also fails to specify the consequences of a regression away from the compromised version of reciprocity.

Under the system established by the MOU Palestinian Americans from Gaza are treated as second class citizens and are subject to a completely different set of rules. Only Palestinian Americans with first degree family ties (parents, siblings, children) are allowed to apply for permission to enter Gaza, and they must travel through the West Bank. The only exceptions made are for children under the age of 12, meaning that those older would be prevented from visiting grandparents. Those eligible must apply 45 days prior to traveling, and are only allowed to apply once a year.

Separately, Palestinian Americans with Palestinian ID cards attempting to enter Israel through the West Bank are required to apply for a permit from the Israeli military authority which controls the Occupied Territories, creating yet another set of rules that are specific to only one section of the American population. Those same Americans are barred from renting a car in Israel, making travel even more difficult and highlighting the disparity in treatment. In agreeing to a tiered system of entry and travel for Americans, the U.S. Government has abandoned all pretense of ensuring fully equal and reciprocal treatment of its citizens through the VWP.

By endorsing separate procedures for Americans deemed “Resident of the West Bank” or “Resident of Gaza” (both of which are undefined in the MOU) from the procedures for other Americans, the U.S. is validating a brutal system of apartheid.

The U.S. Government still has not made an official copy of the MOU public, but has acknowledged that the observation period has begun. It is vital that community members report their experiences and issues, and ADC will continue to demand that full reciprocity is implemented before Israel is given the privilege of joining the Visa Waiver Program.

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