Palestine, a land steeped in history and conflict, is entering a new chapter in its journey towards peace and inclusivity. Recent developments have brought forth significant changes, granting Palestinian Americans access to the land and fostering a sense of belonging. This article explores the recent breakthroughs in Palestinian-American relations, highlighting the implications for both Palestine and the United States. From visa-free travel to the expansion of citizenship rights, these developments mark a turning point in the pursuit of equality and justice.
The Journey to Visa-Free Access
Breaking Barriers: Israel’s Bid for Visa Waiver
For years, Israel has sought to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens from participating countries to enter the United States without a visa for short-term visits. However, the longstanding bid was met with resistance due to concerns over differential treatment for certain U.S. citizens. This impasse prompted Israel to reassess its policies and work towards equal treatment for all.
A Reciprocal Agreement
In a momentous move, Israel and the United States reached a reciprocal agreement that paves the way for visa-free access. The agreement, signed by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides and Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog, ensures that any U.S. citizen, including those with dual citizenship and American residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, can now enter Israel freely. This development not only fosters closer ties between the two nations but also sets a precedent for inclusivity and non-discrimination.
A Six-Week Trial Period
To monitor the implementation of the visa-free access program, the United States will observe the changes over a six-week period. During this time, U.S. officials will assess whether Israel complies with the principles of equal treatment for all U.S. citizen travelers, regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity. The findings of this trial period will inform the U.S. government’s decision on Israel’s admission to the VWP by September 30.
The Impact on Palestinian Americans
Easing Travel Restrictions
The visa-free access program has transformative implications for Palestinian Americans, particularly those residing in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Previously, traveling to Israel posed significant challenges, often requiring detours through neighboring countries and facing restrictions upon entry. With the new program, Palestinian Americans can now fly directly to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, streamlining their travel experience and strengthening their connection to Palestine.
Online Application Process
Another significant change brought about by the visa-free access program is the introduction of online application forms for entry into Israel. Palestinian Americans can now apply for entry as U.S. tourists through these user-friendly digital platforms, providing a more accessible and streamlined process. This innovation not only saves time and effort but also reinforces the notion of equal treatment and inclusivity.
Freedom of Movement and Identity
By granting visa-free access to Palestinian Americans, Israel acknowledges and affirms their right to freedom of movement and identity. This development allows Palestinian Americans to connect with their ancestral homeland, fostering a sense of belonging and strengthening cultural ties. It also provides opportunities for economic and social engagement, enabling Palestinian Americans to contribute to the growth and development of Palestine.
The Road Ahead: Challenges and Opportunities
Addressing Unequal Treatment
While the visa-free access program represents a significant breakthrough, there are concerns regarding unequal treatment of Palestinian Americans. Four Democratic senators have expressed opposition to Israel’s admission to the visa-waiver program, citing ongoing inequalities that need to be addressed. An Arab American rights group has even filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Israel’s participation in the program. The United States remains committed to working with Israel to resolve these issues and ensure equal treatment for all U.S. citizens.
Enhancing Border Security
As part of the reciprocal agreement, Israel has committed to adopting U.S. and international airline passenger screening protocols to enhance border security. This move aligns Israel with post-September 11 standards of airline security and ensures a comprehensive approach to passenger safety. By implementing these measures, Israel demonstrates its commitment to maintaining a secure and efficient travel environment.
Building Bridges for Peace
The visa-free access program opens doors for increased people-to-people interactions, fostering understanding and dialogue between Palestinians and Americans. It provides an opportunity for cultural exchange and cooperation, enabling individuals from both nations to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives. By promoting these connections, the program lays the foundation for greater understanding and peace-building efforts.
The visa-free access granted to Palestinian Americans marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of equality, justice, and peace. Through this program, Palestine and the United States embark on a new chapter of inclusivity, fostering closer ties and strengthening cultural connections. While challenges remain, the progress made reflects a shared commitment to building bridges and creating a future where all individuals can thrive. As the visa-free access program unfolds, it is our hope that it will pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future for all.
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Jillian Hishaw, Esq., is a MacArthur Awardee, Agricultural Lawyer, Founder, and Director of F.A.R.M.S., an international non-profit and Hishaw Law L.L.C., a virtual law practice. Inspired by her own family’s land loss, F.A.R.M.S., provides technical and legal assistance to small farmers, while reducing hunger in the farmer’s community. Hishaw’s first book, “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid,” examines how U.S. long-term care facilities can exercise their federal authority to place a lien on a resident’s property, if an outstanding debt, is owed.
Hishaw, has over 20 years of professional experience in the areas of civil rights, land protection, and agricultural policy. Her prior experience includes working at local, state and federal agencies on conservation and civil rights matters. In 2017, Hishaw was recognized as a Food Changemaker, by the Clif Bar Foundation and featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Atlantic, Vice News, Growers Co., (CAN), and among others. In 2019, the Food Tank organization voted Hishaw, 1 of 15 women in the World Impacting the Food Industry.
Hishaw, has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tuskegee University, plus a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master’s in agricultural law, from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville law school.
Hishaw is the author of “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid,” “US Farm Tax Credits for all 50 States,” “The History of 50 U.S. State Flags & their Historic Symbolism,” and “Systematic Land Theft” winner of the 2022 Independent Press Award, the 2022 National Indie Excellence Book Award, 2022 NYC Big Book Award and Finalist for the 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.