For the second time in two months, Israeli authorities have prevented Nour Joudah, a Palestinian-American teacher, 25, from returning to her job at Ramallah Friends School in Palestine. After spending the Christmas holiday in Jordan, Nour was denied entry by Israeli authorities who demanded to know the name of every Palestinian she had associated with during her earlier service. The heartrending case has gotten scarce attention from US politicians and media. Joudah sent this letter to the president yesterday. Her friends shared it with us.
March 18, 2013
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I write to you as a young Palestinian-American woman who was denied entry by Israeli officials twice in the last two months. My only wrongdoing was trying to return to my job at a USAID-supported school in the West Bank city of Ramallah. As you visit Israel and occupied Palestine this week, you should know that countless American citizens have been shut out.
I have been a teacher at Ramallah Friends School, an American-owned Quaker school, since August 2012. After earning a master’s degree from Georgetown University last year, I decided to step back from collegiate academia, and instead contribute by teaching high school youth before completing my Ph.D. However, after spending the Christmas holiday in Jordan, Israeli authorities denied me entry despite having a valid one-year multiple-entry Israeli visa. Shocked, I was sent back to Jordan, separated from my belongings in Ramallah and 90 energetic students who suddenly had no teacher for the second semester.
Determined to return, I hired an Israeli lawyer and contacted my representatives in Congress. They put me in touch with the Israeli Embassy in Washington, which advised me to try to enter Israel again. Taking their advice, I bought a ticket and landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on February 25. I was confident because the embassy was advising me and I was carrying a supportive letter from a member of Congress. But I guess I was naïve. I was questioned for eight hours, held in a detention center overnight and deported to Jordan on the first flight out of Israel the next morning. This is the type of treatment law-abiding American citizens often receive at the Israeli border. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique. The State Department warns that Americans of Arab or Muslim descent may experience “significant difficulties” entering Israel or the West Bank. The Arab American Institute has documented hundreds of these cases, including Americans being asked humiliating questions, detained for hours, denied entry or strip-searched. Israeli authorities even mistreated an African-American U.S. Congresswoman before they realized who she was.
I was raised in Tennessee, and grew up with stories of a Jim Crow past. The parallels of discrimination are ever-present in this type of treatment. Mr. President, what is your administration doing to stop this discrimination against U.S. citizens? I have received essentially no help from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. When you meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week, I urge you to ask him why an ally and the largest recipient of U.S. aid treats American citizens this way. When you visit Ramallah, you’ll be just a few blocks away from my students, to whom I cannot return. Instead of another closed-door meeting, I urge you to consider addressing them, many of whom are dual citizens, and their interrupted right to an education.