RAMALLAH: Palestinian schoolteacher Zawada Shalaldeh has been the subject of an Israeli travel ban for 37 years.
The 59-year-old from the town of Sa’ir, near Hebron, in the West Bank told Arab News that the restrictions imposed on his movements had also impacted on his wife’s ability to get around.
He said: “Since 1985 until today, I have been banned from traveling by the Israeli occupation forces who claim it is for security reasons. Even my wife cannot obtain an entry permit to Jerusalem because of the ban imposed on me.”
Shalaldeh has been arrested by the Israeli military authorities several times and was last released from custody in December 2016. His travel ban remained in place before and after his arrest.
He attempted to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah in 1988, 1993, and 2008, but on each occasion the Israelis blocked him at Allenby Bridge, the only land border crossing in the West Bank, that links the territory with Jordan.
“I want to travel now to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia, but they do not allow me. I was arrested, and I was punished with imprisonment. Why is this additional punishment preventing me from traveling?
“This is unfair and an unjustified restriction on human freedom. The Israeli occupation has no right to prevent me from exercising my right to travel freely,” he added.
Shalaldeh is one of hundreds of Palestinians that have been hit with travel bans, and human rights officials claim such Israeli restrictions have only intensified in recent years.
“I will continue to struggle until the travel ban is lifted, but I will not give up my right to travel,” he added.
Israel has implemented similar bans on entire communities, including Hebron in 2014, and the village of Rummana, near Jenin, earlier this year.
Helmy Al-Araj, director of the Hurriyat civil rights center in Ramallah, who is leading a campaign against the restrictions, said: “The collective travel ban is for a specific period, but the individual travel ban is far worse as no one knows its time limit or duration, and it is considered a permanent travel ban.”
The official noted that individual travel bans on Palestinians put in place by Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet faced legal challenges as they often lasted indefinitely and affected relatives.
Many Palestinians need to travel through Jordan for trade and business reasons or for education, medical treatment, pilgrimage, and family reunions. Palestine has no airport, but Palestinians are prohibited from using Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, so Allenby Bridge, controlled by the Israeli authorities, is their only corridor to the outside world.
The Hurriyat Center has documented more than 8,500 cases of travel bans since 2014, 650 of them involving women.
“Travelers are surprised by this procedure when they are prevented from traveling to Jordan at the border crossing,” Al-Araj added.
The travel ban affects 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 2 million in the Gaza Strip who are not allowed to move between the two enclaves.