Palestinian-Americans Stopped from Leaving Israel

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Bags packed and ready to go, Palestinian-Americans - along with other Palestinians - were prevented from flying out of Israel for the past five days, after Israel experienced its worst terror attack in years last Friday.

But both the U.S. Embassy and the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the problem had been solved and American nationals - whatever their descent - were again allowed to fly within the current security regulations.

Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz said Ambassador Martin Indyk had spoken to Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer about the issue, clearing the way for the Americans to depart.

The problems experienced had nothing to do with the fact the travelers were American citizens, but occurred because they were Palestinians, Schwartz said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz confirmed that Palestinians - even those with foreign passports - had been unable to fly up until Wednesday.

Israel had since returned to the procedures in place prior to the suicide bombing on Friday, in which 20 Israeli young people were killed.

Palestinians with foreign passports are required to apply for exit permits through their respective embassies. The missions submit lists to the Israeli authorities, who ensure there are no security problems with applicants before they are allowed to leave.

Katz described the procedure as "normal" comparing it to travelers' obligation to apply for visas before visiting foreign countries.

A spokesman for the Israeli government in the disputed territories, Moshe Karif, said that more than 100 Palestinian Americans had been allowed to leave those areas since Wednesday.

Pat Kabra, a spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem - which handles Palestinian affairs - termed the earlier situation a "fiasco."

She could not say how many Americans had been affected by Israel's total closure of the disputed territories but the consulate had received "dozens" of phone calls about it.

Schwartz said that problems had only been experienced by Palestinian-Americans traveling from the West Bank, not from the Gaza Strip.

Neither the consulate nor affected airlines were able or willing on Thursday to give figures or names of those turned away.

In some cases people were turned back at security checkpoints between PA- and Israeli-controlled areas. Others were already at the airport, having checked in their luggage when they were told they wouldn't be allowed to leave, Kabra said.

Israel was probably the only place in the world where American citizens had to apply for a "visa" to return home after visiting their relatives, she added.

Palestinians and Israelis who hold dual nationality are all required to travel to and from Israel on their Palestinian and Israeli documents, whatever other passport they may hold.

Shortly after Friday's bombing Delta and Air France both suspended their flights to and from Israel because of security concerns. Both reported on Thursday that they have resumed services as normal.

Meanwhile, CIA director George Tenet is meeting separately with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat on Thursday.

Israeli forces remain on high alert against the possibility of terror attacks. Overnight, three Israelis were wounded in a shooting attack on their vehicle.