Immigration Factors To Be Aware Of
United States citizens traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza should...be aware of the complexities regarding entry, exit and permission to stay in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.
-- Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State
It is crucial that travellers considering a first trip to Israel remember that "Visa-free" does not mean "free and easy" entry! In fact, for some holders of US passport, Israel does not even qualify as "Visa-free" because a pre-arrival permit is required (see #3 below).
Quoting the US State Dept., the "complexities" include:
- "security screening, possibly including prolonged questioning and physical searches"
- "significant difficulties and unequal and hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints" for "U.S. citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian-Americans)"
- "Individuals registered in the Palestinian Authority population registry, including those whom Israeli authorities believe may have a claim to a Palestinian identification card, are prohibited from entering Israel or visiting Jerusalem without advance permission, regardless of other nationality, including U.S. citizenship, or place of residence...Individuals may apply for a permit to enter Israel via Ben Gurion Airport prior to travel at an Israeli embassy or consulate abroad, though the traveler may be required to depart the West Bank via the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge into Jordan. The restrictions above may apply even if an individual is not aware of being listed on the PA population registry, does not possess a Palestinian identification card, and does not desire such status."
- "U.S. citizens have been denied entry to Israel and the West Bank for involvement in and/or expressing support on social media for the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement."
- "...some travelers have had their laptop computers and other electronic equipment searched at Ben Gurion Airport. While most items are returned prior to the traveler’s departure, some equipment has been confiscated and reportedly been damaged, destroyed, lost, or never returned...There is no redress for confiscations."
- "Israeli security officials have also on occasion requested access to travelers’ personal e-mail accounts or other social media accounts as a condition of entry. In such circumstances, travelers should have no expectation of privacy for any data stored on such devices or in their accounts."
See Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State for details.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice for Israel echoes much of US State Dept. warnings. In addition, it warns:
"At the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan, as well as at Ben Gurion Airport, Israeli border officials have on occasions used an entry stamp for certain travellers that states ‘Palestinian Authority only’ or ‘Judea and Samaria only’. Since travellers entering via the Allenby Bridge crossing must pass through Israeli checkpoints and Israeli-controlled territory to reach Jerusalem or Gaza, this restriction effectively limits travellers who receive this stamp. It is not clear how a traveller receiving the stamp at Ben Gurion Airport can leave the airport without violating the restriction. This stamp has been issued to travellers who have no Palestinian or other Arab ancestry, and who would not seem to have any claim to a Palestinian Authority ID."
Because these and other "complexities" make entry to Israel dependent on many factors whose outcome cannot be determined (and sometimes even the factors themselves cannot be determined), Israel certainly rates as a "Black Box" destination.