Israel is denying visas to aid groups working with Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza

Israel has stopped renewing visas and work permits for scores of aid workers who provide vital support for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of the October 7 attacks.

Faris Arouri, director of the Association of International Development Agencies, an umbrella group, said those barred include country directors and emergency response teams, as well as senior management and other expatriates working in the West Bank or coordinating matters inside Gaza.

AIDA’s members include Oxfam, Action Against Hunger, Amnesty International, Care International, and Catholic Relief Services.

Until now, Israel’s Welfare Ministry has played the key role in rec-ommendations for such visas. But it doesn’t feel equipped to do the requisite background checks and urged the Prime Minister’s Office to designate a different agency, according to Gil Horev, a ministry spokesman.

The Prime Minister’s office said it had asked the National Security Council to figure out the best way to proceed, which may take some time.

“It’s creating a huge bottleneck for organizations,” Arouri said.

“More than 60 percent of expatriate humanitarian workers have had their visas expire in the past few weeks because, as of October 7, the Israeli authorities stopped issuing work visas.”

Israel has long accused some nongovernmental organizations of having a hostile political agenda. After the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas operatives, in which 1,200 people were killed and 250 kidnapped, Israel said it found evidence that United Nations workers in Gaza were Hamas activists who took part in the assault.

Israel has been attacking Hamas in Gaza for nearly five months, killing almost 30,000 there, according to the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Talks are now underway for a pause in fighting and an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli media reported that talks in Paris involving representatives from the US, Egypt and Qatar as well as Israel made progress on Friday.

Meantime, conditions on the ground in Gaza are increasingly desperate. And in the West Bank, workers have been barred from entering Israel, leading to increased distress and greater need there as well.

Gerald Steinberg, a retired Israeli political scientist who founded NGO Monitor, a group that seeks to expose non-profits that work against Israel, said that some of the organizations in question are anti-Israel, and that the time has come not to automatically renew their presence.

“October 7 changed the rules and Israel is not just going to give out those visas,” he said. “Many of these groups have been propagandists of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli aggression.”

Three aid workers for major international organizations said their work permits haven’t been renewed recently. As a result they’ve had to choose whether to leave Israel or stay in the country without working.

A letter on behalf of the aid groups, dated February 20 and sent to Israel’s Attorney General, said that, “As of October 2023, the Ministry of Welfare suddenly and unilaterally stopped exercising its part of the procedure.”

The letter said the need for aid was urgent and added that three general managers of international organizations were recently refused access to Israel.

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