In what appears to be a recent change of events, the passports of non-Israelis who enter the areas of Judea and Samaria are now being stamped with “Judea & Samaria Only” “visitors permit,” whereas until fairly recently those passports were stamped with “Palestinian Authority Only” stamps.
There has been a hysterical response to this by such anti-Israel activists as Ali Abunimah, the founder and editor of the “Electronic Intifada,” an online media outlet dedicated to attacking Israel, the “Zionist entity.”
It would not be such a big deal if it were only the virulently anti-Israel fringe who read the Electronic Intifada who complained about the change. But, incredibly, the issue has now been taken up by international media outlets such as the Associated Press who have been badgering the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department about the change.
During the press conference on Tuesday, December 4, the AP’s State Department correspondent Matt Lee repeatedly badgered Deputy State Department Spokesperson Mark C. Toner about the matter. Lee parroted Abunimah’s over-the-top characterization of the stamp, and demanded to know what the U.S. is going to do about Israel’s “creeping annexation” over what he insisted Toner acknowledge was “occupied territory.”
The reporter compared what he considered to be a lackluster response to the concern expressed by the U.S. when the Chinese government began issuing passports in which maps showed Chinese ownership over disputed maritime territory. Toner resisted the comparison, but ultimately relented and assured the AP reporter that he would “look into it,” and then “report back.”
The source of the concern, the Electronic Intifada, is so hostile to Israel that it describes the change in Israeli stamp policy in this way:
‘Judea and Samaria’ is the Jewish nationalist name Israel gives to the occupied West Bank to reinforce its bogus claims to the territory and to give them a veneer of historical and religious legitimacy.
The latest change is further proof, if it were needed, that Israel is, without announcing it, implementing a racist one-state solution where there is no such thing as a Palestinian state and even the ‘Palestinian Authority’ has been erased.
Of course, Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron in Hebrew) are the terms which have been used to refer to these areas throughout history. It has only been since the 1960′s that the term “West Bank” began to be used to refer to that area.
Here is the full exchange at the State Dept. briefing on Tuesday, December 4, 2012:
QUESTION: The Israeli Interior Ministry today announced that they’re also – they approved, or they are about to build 1,600 units. It’s the Ramat Shlomo settlement. It was actually launched during the Vice President’s visit to Jerusalem back in 2010 and you guys stopped it. Today, they – so do you have a comment on that?
Mark C. Toner, Deputy Department Spokesman: Well, you won’t be surprised if – I’d just refer you to our statement yesterday, which is that these kinds of actions are unproductive and don’t help get the parties back to the negotiating table, which is our ultimate goal.
QUESTION: Okay, but this seems to be like a daily event now. We might expect tomorrow there’s going to be another settlement and so on, and you will continue to refer to your statement of the day before yesterday?
MR. TONER: Well, our position – as we said, we made it very clear yesterday in our statement, but our position has not changed, and we continue to convey that to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Okay. So you have no intention of, let’s say, following suit with the – with your –
MR. TONER: Said, we see you –
QUESTION: – allies, Australia, and others to call the Israeli ambassador and tell him that in person?
MR. TONER: Well, Said, we’re in almost – well, we are in daily contact with the Israeli Government through our mission in Israel, and we’re going to convey what we’ve – privately as well as what we’ve conveyed publicly.
QUESTION: I have one last question on – if you indulge me – on the West Bank. The Israelis now are stamping visitors’ passports, American visitors and others, when they enter the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. Are you concerned about that? Did you express your concern to the Israelis?
MR. TONER: I’ve looked into it. I don’t have much to say about it beyond the fact that it’s really a question better directed to the Israeli Government for their specifics on their border procedures.
My understanding is that this stamp is for – is an entry stamp that permits travel –
QUESTION: Into the West Bank?
MR. TONER: — into the West Bank.
QUESTION: But you do recognize the West Bank as occupied territory; correct?
MR. TONER: Again, this is a question, I think, on the actual stamp and what it says. I think it’s best directed to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Well, can’t you see if there is more that you can say about this, considering the fact that you took great pains to say that the Chinese map and their map and the Chinese passport was wrong? And this would seem to follow along the same lines. If the Israelis are now using words that would imply that they’re – that would – that might imply a claim over territory, it would seem to be roughly the same as the Chinese passport issue, which you said you were raising with the Chinese.
MR. TONER: I wouldn’t conflate the two issues. I could look to see if we have anything more to say on it, but I think – the emphasis on the word “might” – I think that this is a stamp that they provide for –
QUESTION: Well, the point is that I don’t think –
MR. TONER: – travelers into Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank.
QUESTION: Well, have you talked –
MR. TONER: I have not. We’ve not sought clarification on it. I’ll check.
QUESTION: You’ve not? Because I would think that you might want to, to make sure that this isn’t – this is not something that prejudges the outcome of a negotiation, which is the same thing as the Chinese passport –
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it. But obviously you know what our position is on that, but I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: Well, then you would have a problem with it if –
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it, Matt.
QUESTION: Would you be concerned that this might be interpreted as creeping annexation?
MR. TONER: Again, I think I just told Matt I don’t have many details, beyond the fact that this is a stamp that their customs and border agency provides stamps on passports for people to go into these Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. I’ll try to get more details if we have any on the actual names that they’re using.
QUESTION: And do you feel – there was an editorial today in The New York Times saying that perhaps it is time for the Administration to retake the lead in sort of re-igniting the talks or the peace process. Do you feel that this is the feeling in this building?
MR. TONER: Well, I think, as I said yesterday to Matt, this is a difficult and complex process. I don’t think we’ve ever backed away from our efforts to get the parties back to the negotiating table, but we have had some setbacks. Last week’s vote in the UN was a setback. The Israeli announcement on Friday was a setback. But we continue to work closely with our partners on this to get them back to what we all want to see, which is a negotiated settlement.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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