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February 3, 2010

Canadian Zionists and friends wear blinders

Reuel S. Amdur

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Amira Hass of Israel's Haaretz had a piece in January entitled "Israel withholding NGO employees' work permits."

This policy means that these employees of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), operating in Palestinian territories including occupied Arab East Jerusalem will be only granted visitors’ visas, forbidding them to work.

NGO’s who were covered before the 1967 war and were granted status by Jordan are exempt from the change, including the Red Cross and certain Christian organizations. 

Among the groups affected are the Quakers, Oxfam, Save the Children, Médecins sans frontières, Terre des Hommes, and Handicap International. 

Those working in NGO’s believe that one reason for the change may be to force them out of occupied Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel is currently engaged in incorporating fully into Israel.  It is, for instance, seizing Palestinian homes, expelling the owners, and replacing them with Jews. 

While these NGO staffers suspect that Israel is trying to make those in Jerusalem to move to West Bank cities, the policy would restrict them there as well if all they have is an Israeli issued visitor’s visa. 

There is also concern that they would now be required to register with an agency subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, rather than as previously with the Ministry of Social Affairs. 

Some NGO’s are concerned that the relationship with the Ministry of Defense is inappropriate as possibly in conflict with the International Red Cross’ Code of Conduct, to which most if not all these NGO’s are committed. 

The Code provides that “Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious viewpoint” and that “We shall endeavor not to act as instruments of government foreign policy.” 

Haas quotes a statement from the Interior Ministry about the situation: 

“Recently, a question was raised on the issue of visas granted to those staying in the Palestinian Authority and in Israel, as it transpired that they spend most of their time in the PA despite having been provided with Israeli work permits.  The matter is under intense discussions, with the active participation of the relevant military authorities, with a view to finding the right and appropriate solution as soon as possible.”

What is unclear in the statement is who raised the question and why. 

The staff wanting to work in Palestine must get an Israeli work permit, even though known up front that their work is in Palestine, so the reason for any policy change is clearly for further repression.  The “solution as soon as possible” is to a non-problem, unless the problem is how to curtail aid to Palestinians. 

The Haas article also mentions the restrictions on others wishing to visit Palestine.  “Israel is refusing work visas to most foreign nationals who state that they wish to work within the Palestinian territories, such as foreign lecturers for Palestinian universities and businessmen.” 

Israel has noted with satisfaction and pride that its elimination of some roadblocks and check points on the West Bank has aided in improved economic performance in that territory.  But why the barrier to businessmen wishing to go to the West Bank? 

Then we come to the restrictions on foreign academics, prevented from going to Palestinian universities. 

Remember the howl of outrage from university presidents and academics in the United States and Great Britain when the idea of banning Israeli scholars was raised?  Against academic freedom.  Against the holy code of Academe. 

Where are those voices for the sanctity of the academy which is curtailed by depriving scholars the right to ply their profession and for the right of academic institutions to engage them? 

And where were those same university voices when Palestinian students were denied passage by Israel, preventing them from acting on their acceptance by American and British universities?

Incidentally, Israel has just decided to upgrade Ariel, an Israeli college operating illegally on occupied territory to university centre status, with future designation as a just plain university foreseen in the future.  Israel will of course see to it that there are no barriers for Ariel to enlist professors. 

By all means, get your Zionist friends to click onto Haaretz.  It will help serve to remove the blinders which Canadian and American Zionists wear when it comes to what is actually happening in Israel and the Occupied Territories. 

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer living near Ottawa.

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