US Embassy to American in trouble in Israel: ‘You’re not Jewish? Then we can’t do anything to help you’

Israel/Palestine
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Sandra Tamari, right, at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, alongside Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Sandra Tamari is a Palestinian-American Quaker who lives outside St. Louis. She is is a member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and has worked on divestment, as you can see in the picture above. 

Last week she was deported from Israel and the American embassy asked if she was Jewish and then said it couldn’t help her.

The press release from her supporters:

Sandra Tamari, a Quaker, mother of two, and member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, was detained at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport last week and aggressively questioned for over eight hours before being taken to a detention center and deported back to the United States. During questioning, Israeli security demanded she open her personal email account and accused her of being a terrorist.

Requesting help from the US Embassy, Tamari – a US citizen – was immediately asked if she is Jewish. When told that she was Palestinian, Tamari was advised they could do nothing for her.

“I found it curious that the first question the U.S. Embassy staff asked me is, ‘Are you Jewish?’ It gave me the impression that the support they could provide to me was based on my answer. When I told the Embassy that I was a Palestinian American with family in the West Bank, they told me they could do nothing to help me. Has the U.S. adopted Israel’s racial and religious profiling tactics to discriminate against Arabs and Muslims?”

Thank God for Matt Lee of the Associated Press. Here’s the State Department briefing by Mark Toner from two days back. Lee asks:

back in the Middle East. One is, are you familiar with the case of this – a woman from St. Louis who’s a Palestinian American, who was deported from Israel, I believe several days ago, maybe even last week, who called the Embassy in Tel Aviv for assistance and was asked if she was Jewish? When she said that she was not, when she was Palestinian, they said that they couldn’t help her.

MR. TONER: Matt, I have no idea.

QUESTION: Okay. I sent —

MR. TONER: I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Okay. I sent something about this, not to you.

MR. TONER: Yeah. I apologize. I didn’t see it.

More info from the press release:

Tamari, a vocal advocate for Palestinian rights and the ending of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, was attempting to travel to Israel and the occupied West Bank to participate in an interfaith delegation involving Palestinians and Israelis working for peace and coexistence. She was recently involved in the campaign urging the United Methodist church to adopt selective divestment from companies that profit from the occupation, co-authoring a widely circulated op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last month during the United Methodists’ General Conference. It seems clear that Israel’s treatment of Tamari is related to her work on behalf of Palestinian rights. 

Israel regularly discriminates against Palestinian Americans attempting to enter Israel and the West Bank, denying them entry while allowing Jews from the US and elsewhere to travel freely. The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee urges the State Department and elected US officials to address this blatant discrimination based on religion and ethnicity with their Israeli counterparts. 

Tamari will be addressing her deportation this week with the offices of Rep. John Shimkus, Senator Richard J. Durbin, and Senator Mark Kirk.

Did Tamari get deported because of her divestment work? She wrote this pro-divestment piece for the Tampa Bay Times–along with Michael Berg (Jewish American) and Hala Abdelaziz (Palestinian-American). The trio wrote a similar piece for the Tampa Tribune. Excerpt:

Tragically, the Israeli occupation continues to strangle Palestinian society. Israeli political and religious leaders threaten Palestinians with transfer out of their homeland, enforce the occupation of the West Bank with incredible violence, and continue the naval blockade of Gaza which keeps the people there in dangerous deprivation. In the last 20 years, illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank have increased from 241,500 inhabitants to some 500,000, including East Jerusalem.

Israel’s occupation practices impose severe hardships on residents. Palestinians routinely find themselves trapped by barriers and the Israeli separation wall — unable to visit family members, friends, schools, businesses and places of worship. Death, injury or arrest is a distinct possibility, even for nonviolent protesters demonstrating against home demolitions or land confiscation.

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