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Israel Denies Entry to 18 Americans - 2002-07-02

Israel has denied entry to 18 Americans and put them on a flight back to the United States. The Israeli government said the group was sent home Tuesday as part of a policy to refuse entry to foreigners trying to show solidarity with Palestinians.

An Israeli government spokeswoman said the Americans arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on Monday and were planning to visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellison said the group had contacted the Israeli embassy in Washington a week ago. She said the group was told Israeli policy would not permit a visit. She said there was no further communication with the members of the group until they arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. Ms. Ellison said that another factor that contributed to the Israeli decision not to allow the group entry was that some of the Americans were born in Pakistan and Iraq, countries that do not recognize Israel.

Two Americans in the group who also have Israeli citizenship were allowed to enter, while a British citizen traveling with them was put on a plane to Britain.

Ordinarily, Americans are given automatic 90-day tourist visas on arriving in Israel. But Israel has been refusing entry to supporters of the Palestinian Authority since March, when the Israeli military moved in to occupy many Palestinian cities as part of a campaign to stop terrorist attacks.

Israeli military forces are currently in a second such campaign and have moved into seven of the eight major population centers in the West Bank. Israel launched the campaign following two suicide bombings here in Jerusalem that killed 26 Israelis.

Previously, Israel denied entry to a group of 20 American Muslims and expelled eight other foreigners after they were found in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Another group of foreigners managed to get inside Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah several months ago during a 34-day siege by Israeli troops.

Others entered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during a six-week standoff between Israeli forces and Palestinians who had taken refuge inside. 13 of the Palestinians were deported to several European countries, and 26 were sent to Gaza. Most of the foreigners were deported, although several who fought their deportation orders have been sent to jail.