On my way, inshallah
As holder of one of the most widely accepted passport in the world, I have never stopped too much thinking how hard it is to move freely when your passport is barely recognized.
My passport allows me to visit, work and reside in all of the 190 undisputed sovereign States in the world. My process to get a visa in those countries is fairly easy and, in many cases, not even needed.
Last week I decided to come visit Israel, and I simply had to book my airplane ticket. Last year I decided to do Masters in a university in Europe, and I simply had to apply. Five years ago I chose to finish my high school studies in the United States, and I only had to find an accommodation and sign up for school.
Recently I have witnessed and felt all the stress of one of my Palestinian friends to join an organized trip to Morocco, in order to attend a meeting with other Arab countries’ representatives.
My friend was chosen to represent a community center in the West Bank, and to participate to a meeting held once a year in an Arab country.
The organizing institution set up the event, invited my friend and other members from the Occupied Territories, and bought their tickets.
This is when his conundrum of inexplicable intricated and unknown must-do’s started.
First of all, Palestinian freedom of movement is already limited in the actual Palestinian Territories themselves. There are currently 13 military checkpoints and 40 crossings active between Israel and the West Bank, though depending on Israel’s security reasons this number is most likely to increase. Checkpoints strictly limit Palestinian movement between Israel’s boundaries, Jerusalem East and Gaza, while dirt roadblocks restrict vehicle movements in the West Bank.
With such restrictions inside the territories of the Palestinian Authority, one should imagine the difficulty of travelling outside its boundaries.
Even if my friend’s institution is officially registered and the program has been approved, that does not guarantee his success and ability to apply for a visa, also in an Arab League State, which can only add to his state of frustration.
The Palestinian passport, issued as a consequence of the Oslo Accords in 1995, is a recognized travel document, though this does not implicate the recognition of a Palestinian State and the status of Palestinian citizen to its holder.
Despite the fact that the Palestinian passport is a valid travel document, residents of the Palestinian Territories still prefer to apply for a temporary Jordanian passport, issued to Palestinians because of the Jordanian-Palestinian historic national relationships, in the hope to have a better chance to succeed in the visa application riddle.
As in my friend’s case, his application for the Moroccan visa was made using his Jordanian passport. Morocco, a member of the Arab League and the United Nations, is one of the countries that does not recognize the State of Israel, which should, one would think, ease my friend’s application success. However, this is far from reality.
Guidelines for Moroccan visa for Palestinians are made clear after a week of unreturned calls and emails from my friend. He cannot apply for a tourist or work visa, but for a meeting one. Of the residents of the 66 jurisdictions that can stay up to 90 days visa-free in Morocco, 8 are members of the Arab League, and unsurprisingly Palestine is not one of them.
Can this be addressed as the paradox of “Arab discrimination” between Arabs? Why do unity and support between Arab countries seem to lack in several of the life facets, from applying for a Moroccan visa to asking for help during a military invasion? Why has the promising ideology of Pan-Arabism lost its entire relevance; and why does the wishful goal of creating a Pan-Arab country make my friend laugh?
On the list of most widely accepted passports worldwide, the Palestinian comes fifth from the bottom. Holders of a Palestinian passport are free to travel to just 36 countries in the world without a visa, only more than Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In this framework the prospects and willingness of going through a visa application to go anywhere are a deal breaker. My friend seems used to being rejected, when less than a month ago his application for a tourist visa in the UK was denied for a lack of proof that he would return to the West Bank after his visit, he shrugged and added “We’re Palestinians”.
My outrage is his routine. If denied entry in Morocco, he will light up his shisha pipe and wait until the next visa application.
My friend is still waiting for his visa submission to be taken into consideration. Inshallah, he will make it.