Israel's deportation policy entered a new phase on Monday when Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), arrived at Ben Gurion airport and discovered an entry ban on Shapiro, despite inquires made in advance by a lawyer for the couple. Arraf and Shapiro, now expecting their first child, are perhaps the most recognizable pair in the Palestine solidarity movement, and architects for building an international activist presence on the ground since the beginning of the second Intifada.
At the airport on Monday afternoon Israeli authorities informed Shapiro that in 2009, unknown to him, the Israeli Ministry of Interior issued a 10-year entry ban for him. Initially the border police "weren't making much sense," Arraf told Mondoweiss, but then Shapiro was taken to jail where he remained for two days until he and Arraf were briefly reunited at a court hearing Tuesday.
After Shapiro's Monday arrest, Arraf sent a letter to friends and supporters on her husband's arrest:
Adam and I are expecting our first child, a boy in about 5 weeks. As joyful as this blessing is, we've had / we have to make some difficult decisions (besides what to name our son that is!) I am an Israeli citizen (in addition to a US citizen). This fact has made it possible for me to continue accessing my homeland all these years in spite of some attempts by Israel to kick me out. Israel did however deport Adam in 2002 because of our human rights work and banned him from re-entering the country (including the occupied Palestinian territory) since, which is why we've had to spend so much of our married life apart. In order for us to ensure that in the future, if Israel remains the racist, apartheid state that it is, it won't deny our son the right to visit his homeland and all his family in Palestine, we've had to think about getting Israeli citizenship for our son. However, because I'm Palestinian, and not a Jewish citizen of Israel, our child will not have the automatic right to visit the country or to claim citizenship. The only way for me to pass down my citizenship to our son is to have him in Israel.
Arraf explained that in Tuesday's court hearing the state claimed that Shapiro was presented "a document all in Hebrew" that stipulated a 10-year entry ban when he was detained by Israeli authorities in 2009 and "they said that Adam refused to sign." But Arraf says Shapiro was never given such a document, "this is the first time he's been told he has a 10-year ban." Yet at the trial, Arraf says the state's attorney produced a copy of the letter, "it's the state's word against Adam's."
"When the judge ruled, it was basically a technical ruling," explained Arraf. He "wouldn't listen to evidence on the ban itself, whether it is legal," and Arraf summarizes it was clear "they did not want Adam to enter the country."
Arraf is Palestinian with U.S. and Israeli citizenship, and Shapiro is a U.S. citizen—facts that dictate the couple's ability to live together, travel together, and now will impose a separation during the birth of their first child after 11 years of marriage. Because of Arraf's Palestinian national identity, she traveled to Israel late in her pregnancy so she could give birth to her son in country, ensuring she could bequeath her Israeli citizenship. Although it is technically possible for Arraf to transfer citizenship abroad, for Palestinians it is an arduous task. By contrast, children of Israeli-Jews born outside of the country can be issued Israeli identification numbers, even in instances where the child is not registered by the parents. This past year an American activist born to an Israeli father told Mondoweiss that despite never applying for citizenship, the Israeli Ministry of Interior told her she was already registered in the system. They said it was illegal for her to enter on a U.S. passport as the state already considered her an Israeli citizen.
Last month a lawyer for Arraf and Shapiro twice inquired with the Israeli government on Shapiro's ability to enter Israel. Both times Arraf said Shapiro "was never given any written notice that he has a 10-year ban." In addition, in 2008 Arraf wrote a letter to the Ministry of Interior to inquire into Shapiro's travel status. At the airport on Monday, border officials produced a copy of the letter and told Arraf that she should have waited for a response before entering. "Well it's been five years, you want us to wait longer for a response?" said Arraf.
Arraf and Shapiro's current predicament dates back to 2002 when Shapiro was working in the West Bank as a human rights activist. After an arrest that led to deportation Shapiro discovered he was persona non grata, when attempting to re-enter through an Israeli controlled border. Over the next ten years he tried to enter the country three times. The pair was advised that Shapiro had been issued one of the notoriously vague 10-year entry bans, typically given to activists without notice, or formal explanation. Indeed Shapiro was never officially told he had a 10-year ban, but it was a logical deduction.
Later in 2009 while aboard the flotilla to breach the Israeli sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, Shapiro was taken into Israel by Israeli forces against his will and was again deported. According to Arraf, at the time the judge in that case acknowledged that Shapiro did not intend to enter Israel and was taken into the country while under custody of Israeli authorities. Now the state is alleging a new entry ban was issued at that time.
Because Arraf and Shapiro have been in communication with Israeli officials about their travel plans, Shapiro's secret 10-year entry ban is especially alarming. The couple seems to have taken every measure to ensure Shapiro could be present for the birth of their son. But with Shapiro’s looming deportation anticipated to take place this evening, their case demonstrates that Israel not only issues entry bans, but also conceals them until the time of arrival.
"A couple of years ago," said Arraf, "a lawyer once told me that [the 10-year entry ban] is not in any official Israeli law." Yet, the threat of a 10-year ban is considered a final banishment doled out to the most high profile activists. It is viewed as a punitive measure for internationals who are known supporters of Palestinian rights, a fact that is underscored by the fact that only Palestine solidarity activists have received it.
Because of an Israeli policy that allows for anyone who is a perceived "security threat," to be denied entry on spot, Arraf was aware her husband could face complications upon arrival. It is not uncommon for activists working in the West Bank to be deported from Israel, even without ever exiting the airport. This policy was employed en masse in 2012 and in 2011 when dozens of internationals were denied entry when traveling for a "fly-in," a protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
"I'm usually very optimistic" said Arraf in regards to Shapiro's ability to be present for the birth of their son. But with "all of his human rights work and his activism the state doesn't like him."
Arraf has a reputation for hopefulness and resilience, and it is not surprising that despite this situation she is still committed to working for the rights of Palestinians. I interviewed her after she was arrested on the 2010 flotilla, and Arraf told me that the Israeli police beat her until she was concussed, ultimately dumping her from their car. She regained consciousness while medics put her on a stretcher after seemingly being left for dead in the middle of the desert. Arraf was then taken to a hospital. After treatment she left on her own and walked until she found a phone to call her family. She didn't know where she was, or how much time had passed.
But a few days later Arraf was back on the ground, demonstrating and fighting for her cause. Now, just as in 2010, she moves forward even though her husband's case will likely become a benchmark for secret travel bans.
"We continue our work on the larger picture," wrote Arraf in her latest update to friends. "If our situation can be used to help shed more light on the racism and inhumanity rampant here (as well as Israel's contempt for human rights defenders), with the goal of changing the system someday for the future of all the children of this region, that would be one of the best things that we could hope for."