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American teacher denied entry to Palestine calls on Obama to address Israel’s Jim Crow policies

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Nour Joudah
Nour Joudah

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.


Nour Joudah

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24 Responses

  1. Citizen
    March 19, 2013, 9:54 am

    Great letter! Go Nour Joudah!

    But PS: I wonder which of his handlers flunkies will handle it–you know, grab a boilerplate form, send it out to you via snail mail thanking you for your concerns and assuring you Obama is doing all possible in his pursuit of peace in the region, then deep-sixing your letter. Obama himself will never read it. It won’t even get to his desk.
    Anyone think differently?

    • Real Jew
      March 19, 2013, 12:22 pm

      Citizen, your theory is absolutely correct. You hit the nail right on the head. An aide will read the letter, never bring it to obama’s attention, and may never even respond. Even if obama miraculously read the letter in no way shape or form will he address Netanyahu about it. He doesn’t even plan to discuss settlements or the peace process, let alone a letter from Arab American about travel restrictions. What a shame.

  2. American
    March 19, 2013, 10:38 am

    I’ll be very surprised if Obama pays any attention to this.
    After 4 1/2 years I have yet to figure out what or who Obama actually cares about.
    He doesn’t seem to have a real passion for anything.

  3. piotr
    March 19, 2013, 11:31 am

    This is an outrageous, but all too typical case of US government abandoning the citizens. As I commented before, while a country can do (almost) anything to person crossing the border, it is also a subject of reciprocity.

    After Avi Marmara, Turks complained about the treatment at BGU, and Turkey applied similar treatment to some groups of Israeli tourists. Often the retaliatory treatment is most effective if it directed at ranking members of the elite. This should work, unless, as Secretary Hagel remarked (famously, infamously) our State Department represents Israel first.


    On a less serious not, if Israel really, really wishes to free Pollard, normally the simplest method would be to arrest an American, accuse of spying and propose an exchange. Except that it would be futile. as it assumes that US government would care.

  4. pabelmont
    March 19, 2013, 11:35 am

    Good letter. Wouldn’t it be nice if the president took up the entire question of (that is, mentioned his disappointment with) Israeli refusal to honor its own entry permits when he visits tomorrow?

  5. gracie fr
    March 19, 2013, 1:44 pm

    Given that this brave young woman is a Palestinian American marks her for harassment by the Israeli authorities. A background check would have confirm Nour Joudah’s heritage. Could she have been singled out for her participation in campaigns thought to be too pro-Palestinian during her academic career in the US which a simple Google search would indicate? Or is her case simply a random selection done to intimidate a teacher responsible for young Palestinian minds in what have become intentional acts where the goal is to create a publicized spectacle with the intention of discouraging protest and encouraging quiescence. The more attention these cases receive, the more embarrassing Israeli policy becomes….
    Keep up the good fight Nour Joudah. Your case is far from being unique….

  6. Rusty Pipes
    March 19, 2013, 4:16 pm

    The White House claims that Obama has asked his staff to select 10 letters from average Americans for him to hear daily. Among the many Palestinian-American narratives that cry out for Obama’s attention, this one is particularly timely. Surely, it should make it into the top ten letters pile this week.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    March 19, 2013, 11:00 pm

    RE: “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.” ~ Weiss

    MY SNARK: So, who ya gonna call? No, not Ghostbusters™. Call that “avid supporter of free speech”, Ambassador Michael Oren! He is so proud of Israel’s “democratic values”!

    SEE: “Israel’s US envoy: ‘Gatekeepers’ hindering PR efforts”, By Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynet News, 3/17/13
    Although he is an avid supporter of free speech, advancement of local film industry, Ambassador Michael Oren believes documentary in which Shin Bet officials slam Israel’s West Bank policy hurting country’s international image

    WASHINGTON – Standing at the forefront of Israeli PR, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has felt in recent weeks that he is being undermined from within.
    “The Gatekeepers” – former Shin Bet heads who were interviewed for an Oscar-nominated documentary – are the ones Oren believes are hindering the efforts made by Israel, which is “already in a war of sorts.”
    Oren contemplated for a long time whether or not to make this claim publicly for fear that it will relay a message that he is trying to silence freedom of speech and democratic values of which he is so proud and the amazing cinematic advancement Israel has seen.
    In his youth, the ambassador was an assistant to Orson Welles, so he appreciates a good film. However, Oren disclosed his thoughts on the subject to Ynet, and not just so that former officials would think twice before giving interviews such as those given by the six former Shin Bet directors.
    Appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who himself said he does not intend to watch “The Gatekeepers,” Oren is first and foremost an historian. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE –,7340,L-4357190,00.html

    • NickJOCW
      March 20, 2013, 4:41 am

      I read that article and my take was Oren is telling it like it is for him; that the increasing exposure and criticism of Israeli policies makes his task embarrassingly difficult and sometimes well nigh impossible.

      As for this teacher, she comes across as something of an activist and more than likely attracted official attention during her brief sojourn last year. She may have gotten herself on some list or other so she is now unwelcome. I don’t see how the US which is notorious for harassing Arabs can possibly raise this instance publicly.

      • piotr
        March 20, 2013, 9:34 am

        Nick, effectively, Joudah was expelled from her job for being “something of an activist”. The patient with such symptoms probably suffers from mild fascism, but the condition may be progressing.

        That USA suffers from such symptoms themselves, well, it is not a good cheer. However, there is also these question:

        does obnoxious treatment of citizens of state X insult state X?

        is state X protecting all citizens or makes a blanket exception for “somewhat of activists or worse”?

        measured tit-for-tat retaliation is an effective tool and leaves “making the publicity” to the offending country (or its elite members on the receiving end)

      • NickJOCW
        March 20, 2013, 3:56 pm

        I don’t know the answer to all that. Israel is a Middle Eastern entity and they are different from Western entities. I don’t mean worse any more than better, just different. This teacher simply muddies the water. She presents herself as a victim but real victims do not promote themselves, others do it on their behalf. You may imagine her wriggling in her seat as she pens her lumpen appeal to the President with copies all over the place. The problem is deeper. We do not live in a chocolate box world; what is happening to the people of Palestine has been going on one way or another since the beginning of recorded history and its evil sister, Spin. There are too many issues careening round like bumper cars for this young person to have the slightest relevance. Rachel Corrie, yes. Nour Joudah, no.

        US ME foreign policy is backed into a cul de sac. There are ways out but no one has the vision, gumtion, intelligence, or sense of purpose to recognise them let alone pursue them. When you have created a situation where the wives of hopelessly incarcerated prisoners are reduced to impregnating themselves with semen smuggled from an impenetrable jail in a plastic cup, you are close the end of the line.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 20, 2013, 4:32 pm

        real victims do not promote themselves, others do it on their behalf.

        did you read the forward:

        Her friends shared it with us.

        it is also worth noting her appeal is not only for herself, but others who have had the same difficulty. this is not only about getting into israel, it is entering palestine. this impacts the ability of palestinian americans to visit their homeland.

      • NickJOCW
        March 20, 2013, 10:24 pm

        Fair enough, but the problems Palestinian Americans face visiting their homeland is simply one of myriad symptoms of a disease. Would Palestinians from any other nation find it easier? What about the difficulty Emad Burnat faced coming the other way? Besides, she was not simply visiting her homeland she was returning to a teaching position she may well have politicised in her first term. She certainly seems to lack perspective. To be young and American is no longer enough. You can’t go hiking in Iran either.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 21, 2013, 2:35 am

        Would Palestinians from any other nation find it easier?

        excuse me?

      • NickJOCW
        March 21, 2013, 4:12 am

        Annie, I have too much respect and admiration for you to wish to cross swords. I shall simply make these further points and then shut up.

        If there are Palestinian Americans there are presumably Palestinian French etc. The suggestion seems to be that female Palestinian Americans are in some way uniquely targeted. If one reads her letter to the President dispassionately, it is replete with self-righteousness.

        Has anyone checked her story?
        Has anyone spoken with the school head or anyone else there? They presumably have a phone.
        Have we seen a copy of the Congresswoman’s letter?
        Is it the job of the US Consul to get people into Palestine?

        She tried to get into Palestine one way, was refused entry so tried to get in another. That itself is provocative. I am not suggesting her story is a fabrication but there could be nuances capable of alternative interpretation. Her account demands some independent checking, that’s all.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 21, 2013, 8:29 am

        nick, while i am very pleased you respect me, and the feelings mutual, don’t tip toe around a debate!

        what’s provocative is israel deciding who gets into palestine. had she been going to jaffa you might have some conceivable leg to stand on, but her destination was ramallah! she’ a teacher and a palestinian and an american and it’s none of israel’s business, at all. furthermore she already went thru all the procedures/proper channels, got a permit for a year and accepted a teaching position. israel yanked it with no explanation. how would you like it if the government of mexico came into your kids classroom in omaha and exiled your kids teacher outside the country in the middle of the schoolyear? get it? it’s not israel business to decide. period. and it very much is the business of our embassy to facilitate americans dealing with the israeli government.

        furthermore had she been palestinian/french then appealing to the french embassy would have been completely normal and the proper recourse. and, there was nothing in her letter that distinguished her request as an appeal ‘because she was a woman’. nothing.

        also, you may not be aware of this, but it’s not unusual in the course of conquering a people to eliminate the elite and educated. just like when we attacked iraq, doctors, educators, and the highly skilled are killed and exiled. so teachers are very very dangerous because they directly impact the minds and thoughts of the populace and there is nothing more dangerous to a conqueror than a free educated mind with dreams, aspirations and determination.

      • NickJOCW
        March 22, 2013, 4:13 am

        I agree with everything you write. My point was and is that the story appears without being checked. It seems scarcely credible under the circumstances that she passed her teaching term without some involvement in anti-Israel activity. Making that comment I am not suggesting it would be wrong, very much the contrary. However, if it was so it adds a dimension to the story and if it was not it adds an even more insidious one. Mondoweiss is too important and has too much responsibility not to check stories, particularly those so close to its agenda. Voila c’est tout.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 22, 2013, 10:56 am

        It seems scarcely credible under the circumstances that she passed her teaching term without some involvement in anti-Israel activity.

        just out of curiosity, do you also think it seems scarcely credible that people could be picked up and held in administrative detention without some involvement in anti-Israel activity? and what about sick gazan wishing to get into a hospital in israel? would they be denied primarily because they were involved in anti-Israel activity? because i’ve heard if they agree to collaborate, or in the instance of a sick child if a parent agrees to collaborate, they can enter.

        does it really seem to you scarcely credible israel would ever take any action unless they evidence of anti israel activity? what about cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh? was it irresponsible of us to run this article, because it seems scarcely credible under the circumstances that he lacking involvement in anti-Israel activity?

        do you think israel has the right to deny palestinians access to palestine if they have suspicion of anti israel ‘activity’? what if they asked her questions, like do you know any prisoners or do you know anyone who knows any prisoners, and she didn’t want to give names.

        what is wrong with giving her the benefit of the doubt. what would you do in her circumstance?

      • sardelapasti
        March 22, 2013, 11:34 am

        Nicketc – “provocative”
        What is provocative and puke-inducing is your impudent acceptance of the Zionist entity’s right to even check people going to occupied Palestine outside the green line.
        No f&*%^ business of yours, no business of the Zionist entity.
        And yes, it sure is the business of the US Consul to force the Zionist entity to let transit every US citizen going outside the green line. His job is, officially, not only to kowtow to the Zionists. He is supposed to be the US Consul, not the representative of the Tel-Aviv **Zis.

      • NickJOCW
        March 22, 2013, 3:49 pm

        Why not give her the benefit of the doubt? It’s not a question of doubt. It’s a question of journalistic integrity. If you dispense with checking stories, one day you will get caught. That is gambling. If you are happy to gamble, fair enough, but a reputation for journalistic realiabilty is like a card castle, a long time in the building and an instant to destroy. Still, who checks anything these days? Hey ho. Light another.

  8. gamal
    March 21, 2013, 7:29 am

    ” She certainly seems to lack perspective.” you mean she should know her place, isnt Israel supposed to be an US ally, but for some Americans visiting Israeli controlled areas is equivalent to hiking illegally in a belligerent state, while spying perhaps, yup thats some perspective right there.
    How would Palestinians from Iran fare, what do you think?

  9. gamal
    March 21, 2013, 8:04 am

    “That itself is provocative.” I have never been able to understand why people, who knew they were forbidden to, insisted on trying to eat at certain “Lunch Counters” and Diners, provocative and needlessly confrontational. Some of us just dont want to get along, you should read Sana Hussein, now there was a woman with perspective: which she learned in Egypt and Harvard i think, Sana goes where she wants does what she wants says what she feels, kind of Adamms family stylee, you know the untermensch also have classes, its ok, we are allowed to:

    • piotr
      March 21, 2013, 10:41 pm

      It is a bit different, thought. Lunch counters were segregated by law, so violations of that law were acts of civil disobedience. Here Ms. Joudah had the unmitigated gall to use her 12 month multiple entry visa to finish the school year with children she was teaching. And she was “provocative” by not giving up instantly, thus raising the doubt in the wisdom of the officials at the Allenby Bridge.

      Someone observed that the children that were affected were “privileged”. From the picture, they are probably from “secular” middle class but not upper middle class, this is a high school run by Americans and which prepares well for studies in USA, thus probably giving a chance to enter local elite. Sound like something that fits very well American interests, and by the same token, disrupting that program is undermining that interest, and supine deference to Israel on that matter contributes to cynicism toward USA. Any way you look at it, this incident stinks.

      Then there is a question that Joudah seems to be “somewhat of an activists”. Clearly, were she an “activist” she would not get 12 month visa. As “somewhat of an activist” she is in Pastor Martin Niemöller territory who originated famous quote “first they went after …” and whose crime was allegedly “not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement”.

    • NickJOCW
      March 22, 2013, 4:16 am

      There is nothing wrong in being provocative. I do it all the time.

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