Huge jump in tourists refused entry to Israel in 2018

Passengers at Ben Gurion Airport Photo: Eyal Izhar
Passengers at Ben Gurion Airport Photo: Eyal Izhar

Almost 19,000 visitors were denied entry by immigration staff in 2018, compared with just 1,870 in 2011.

Of the four million tourists who came to Israel this year, almost 19,000 were refused entry by immigration staff when they reached the country because of suspicions that the tourist was liable to commit criminal or security offenses in Israel, the Population and Immigration Authority reports. This compares with 16,534 in 2016 and only 1,870 who were refused entry in 2011 - a jump of 900% in seven years. Those denied entry were flown back to their country with a "refused entry" stamp on their passport, which sometimes means that they cannot enter Israel for several years at least.

Three reasons can account for a refusal to admit a tourist to Israel: a suspicion that the tourist came to Israel for immigration purposes, a suspicion that a tourist is liable to commit criminal offenses, or a suspicion that the tourist is liable to commit security offenses. The Population and Immigration Authority is responsible for this matter on behalf of the state, and its employees stationed at the airports and other border crossings decide whether to refuse to allow foreign citizens to enter Israel.

Tourists reaching Israel from most countries are granted an entry visa at the border crossing. Immigration staff are trained to ask questions that solicit information on which they can make a decision on whether to admit a tourist.

In recent years, Facebook and other social networks have become an excellent tool for helping immigration staff evaluate the intentions of tourists entering Israel. For example, if a tourist published posts suggesting that he or she is a BDS activist or intends illegally immigrating to Israel, this is grounds enough for denying entry.

The tourist's country of origin also provides an indication. Tourists from Eastern European countries are usually asked more questions, due to concern that they are coming to Israel in order to work illegally or even immigrate. So a tourist from Russia will likely be asked more questions than a tourist from the US. Tourists' whose answers to the immigration staff member are clearly false or inaccurate are liable to find themselves among those denied entry to Israel.

At the land border crossings, a person will simply be refused entry. At airports, procedures are more complicated. The airline that carried the passenger denied entry to Israel is responsible for taking him or her back. There is a detention center at Ben Gurion Airport for those refused entry - a room in which they stay until the papers are arranged for their return flight. The center is located near the landing facility in order to send the person denied entry back as soon as possible. This is not always a possibility, however; those refused entry are sometimes force to spend several days in a detention facility until a solution is found.

Things become complicated at Ovda Airport, from where 50 weekly flights come to and from European destinations. Of the 300,000 people who landed in Ovda this year, 777 tourists were refused entry. In contrast to Ben Gurion Airport, however, Ovda Airport has no regular detention facility for those refused entry. An employee at Ovda Airport told "Globes" that flights are sometimes delayed while arrangements are made to accommodate someone refused entry.

The airlines responsible for returning tourists refused entry are punished to some extent. The Israel Airports Authority rejects the claims that there are prolonged delays, explaining that intervals between flights at Ovda Airport are only 35-60 minutes. The Population and Immigration Authority says, "As of now, there are two solutions for those refused entry at Ovda Airport: sending them back immediately on the airline on which they arrived, and bringing them to the facility at Ben Gurion Airport for those refused entry. The only consideration we take into account is the interest of the person denied entry, and it should be made clear that as long as a passenger has not yet entered Israel, the airline is responsible for him or her. Since flights landing at Ovda do not remain at the airport for long, handling of those refused entry is according to various criteria, usually the availability of flights by the airline."

The issue of security is a 'sacred cow' at Israel's airports and border crossings. But while security trumps all, there is controversy about the way some incoming tourists are questioned and in some instances there have been complaints of unjustified political harassment. The Population and Immigration Authority insists that all complaints are investigated thoroughly.

Tourists denied entry can appeal and submit an urgent petition to the courts, which is heard while they are held in detention at the airport. There was such an example in October when US student Lara Alqasem coming for a one year program at the Hebrew University was denied entry on the grounds of being a BDS activist. Alqasem denied this was the case and she was eventually allowed into the country after petitioning the Supreme Court.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on December 27, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

Passengers at Ben Gurion Airport Photo: Eyal Izhar
Passengers at Ben Gurion Airport Photo: Eyal Izhar
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