Despite security concerns, Israel lifts travel restrictions on Gazan-Americans

Residents of Hamas-controlled coastal enclave can now use Ben Gurion airport, travel freely inside Israel for up to 90 days.

By World Israel News Staff

Israel is dramatically easing American passport holders’ in Gaza’s ability to travel to Israel, including allowing them to take off and land from Ben Gurion Airport, ahead of a likely visa waiver agreement with the U.S.

As part of the agreement, which would exempt Israeli citizens from applying for a visa in order to travel to the U.S., the Biden administration demanded that Israel guarantee reciprocal treatment for all American passport holders – including those who live in PA-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

For decades, Palestinians have been barred from using Ben Gurion airport due to concerns over terrorism, and have needed special permission in order to travel within Israel or use Israeli border crossings to access the territories.

But now, all Palestinians with American passports can travel using Israel’s international airport, and freely travel within Israel for 90 days at a time.

At first, Israel maintained restrictions on Gazans’ entry to Israel, fearing that Americans in the Hamas-administered coastal enclave could pose a major security risk. However, the U.S. made it clear that the same ease of movement needed to be granted to Gazans in order for the visa waiver to come to fruition.

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According to Hebrew-language media reports, senior security officials, including Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, initially balked at the demand.

But as the deadline for compliance with reciprocity comes nearer and failing to ease restrictions on Gaza could mean the visa waiver agreement is canceled, Israel quietly informed Gazan-Americans of the change in procedure.

Hebrew-language reports indicated that Israel has categorized Gazan into separate categories; one for Gazans whose center of life is abroad and who hold American passports, and a different group of Gazans who live full-time in the enclave.

Those who are residents of the Strip will be subject to additional security screening and need to submit a request, which includes a security background check, before using Ben Gurion airport or traveling within Israel.

Screening for those who live outside of the Strip will be less stringent, according to the reports.