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Arab-American Institute documents discrimination, harassment of US Muslims at Israeli borders

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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ben gurion airport
Ben Gurion Airport

The Arab-American Institute (AAI) has published a collection of stories from American citizens who say they were harassed, detained or deported when trying to enter Israel. The snapshots of trouble at the Israeli border were published as the battle over legislation granting Israelis visa-free entry to the U.S. heats up.

The stories published by the Arab-American Institute cover some well-known ground, particularly for regular readers of this site. AAI highlights the stories of Najwa Doughman, a Palestinian-American who was detained and deported at Ben-Gurion Airport; Sandra Tamari, the Palestinian-American activist who was also deported after receiving no help from a U.S. embassy official, who asked whether she was Jewish; and Nour Joudah, the Palestinian-American teacher denied entry twice and deported back to Jordan. All of these cases highlight how Israel harasses Americans of Arab descent and activists in support of Palestinians when they try to enter the country.

Joudah’s case received attention in part because she was a teacher at a U.S. government-funded school–the Friends School in Ramallah. But Joudah’s experience of discrimination is not the only one demonstrating how a link to the U.S. government doesn’t matter to Israeli authorities. The AAI published this story of an Iranian-American graduate student from Virginia denied entry at Ben-Gurion in 2006:

The purpose of her trip was to visit religious sites in Jerusalem in addition to meeting with human rights activists working in Israel and the occupied territories. Upon her return, her intent was to reveal the findings of her trip in a briefing sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. After inquiring and confirming that she was Muslim, Israeli authorities interrogated her for more than 8 hours and detained her for more than 26 hours. She was maintained in an airport detention center until her flight the following morning to Washington. She was strip searched multiple times, and her phone, camera, and belongings were confiscated and not returned until her flight the following morning. During the time of the incident, she still maintained a Top Secret Security Clearance in the U.S., having left a post at the DoS [Department of State] less than a year leading to the trip to Israel. She was subsequently told by Israeli authorities that she was denied entry and banned from Israel for ten years.

Here’s another story from the AAI collection, about a public health professional from Maryland:

In January 2013, a US citizen of Lebanese and Palestinian heritage was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv after six hours of interrogation, while her husband was allowed in (her husband is also an American citizen of Lebanese descent). She was denied entry for refusing to answer questions or provide names and telephone numbers of her family and friends in Lebanon. She was told that the denial was based on suspicion she was a “terrorist”, and because “they didn’t like” that she was Muslim. This is incorrect on all counts: she works frequently on national security issues for the United States Government and has had a security clearance; and while religion is no excuse for discrimination in any event, this woman is not a Muslim, but a Christian. Despite the insult and seriousness of the situation, she says, she couldn’t help but burst out laughing at the absurdity of the accusation.

The stories highlight what is at the heart of a dispute between Congressional members over a bill granting Israelis visa-free travel to the U.S.

The bill, which has broad bi-partisan backing, has run into criticism from a small group of legislators and Obama administration officials, according to the Associated Press. These officials are concerned that the language of the bill–which states that Israel has to make “every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended” to U.S. citizens–allows for discrimination of the sort AAI highlights. 

That specific language about not jeopardizing the “security” of Israel is unique, and not included in any of the other reciprocal visa-free programs the U.S. has with other countries, as Ali Gharib and George Hale noted in The Daily Beast. ”Security” concerns were the reasons cited by Israel to keep the Palestinian-American teacher Joudah out, though no specific evidence on that front was presented.

House members like Keith Ellison (D-MN), John Yarmuth (D-KY) and 13 other legislators wrote a letter to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren expressing their concerns about discrimination at the border. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency obtained a copy of the letter:

The letter notes reports that Israel profiles Muslim and Arab Americans; that this year Israel turned away an American who taught at a school in the West Bank; that some Americans receive “Palestinian Authority Only” visas allowing them to stay only within the West Bank; and that Israel requires some U.S. citizens to turn on their computers or other devices and show them their email accounts.

“We ask that you work with us to ensure that all American citizens are treated equally at Israeli ports of entry,” the letter said.

But Oren brushed off those concerns in a reply letter. According to the JTA, Oren said that Israel restricts the access of Palestinian Americans to the country because of terrorism concerns. The outgoing ambassador also likened ”the requirement to show authorities emails to inspections of electronic devices in other countries, including the United States, although he does not show instances of U.S. authorities requiring actual examination of emails.”

Oren insisted in his letter that “American citizens are accorded all the rights to which they are entitled at their entry to the State of Israel…Given the security challenges we face, every effort is extended in this regard.”

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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9 Responses

  1. kalki
    kalki
    July 18, 2013, 10:48 am

    Quite by coincidence, here is a link to an article published today in The Express Tribune newspaper in Pakistan. They are linked to The International Herald Tribune and in fact publish and distribute it daily along with their own paper.
    The punch line towards the end is particularly telling and makes one even more skeptical of the EU’s recent pronouncement/demand vis a vis the occupied territories.
    Here is the link: http://tribune.com.pk/story/578278/what-happened-to-me-when-i-landed-in-israel/.

  2. Citizen
    Citizen
    July 18, 2013, 11:57 am
  3. Citizen
    Citizen
    July 18, 2013, 11:59 am

    If you’re in the DC area on 7/24: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/d/EventDetails/i/40833
    Event discussing discrimination against Palestinian Americans.

  4. seafoid
    seafoid
    July 18, 2013, 2:39 pm

    Systematic dehumanization of non Jews. This is how the Covenant with God works, is it?

  5. piotr
    piotr
    July 18, 2013, 7:16 pm

    It must be stressed that “security concerns of the state” were addressed by the most sinister institutions of XX century including

    Reichssicherheitshauptamt = federal security office

    Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti (KGB) = state committee on security

    There is simply no limit how far “security concerns” can go.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      July 19, 2013, 5:12 am

      @ piotr
      Yep, look where we’re headed under the Patriot Act. Look how many Americans think Manning, Snowden are simply traitors.

      It’s really hard to believe those signing on to the act don’t know “security” is a major weasel word, stretchable as a rubber band, and stretched customarily by Israel, yet they are signing on to those bills making Israel our unique super ally worthy of total enmeshment in our own security & defense apparatus, and our first exception to full reciprocity in our visa waiver program–I guess the current 37 states we have said program with don’t have real security concerns.

  6. Obsidian
    Obsidian
    July 19, 2013, 5:38 am

    And how many Muslim Americans have entered Israel without problems?

    • piotr
      piotr
      July 20, 2013, 11:37 pm

      And how many Norwegian women in Dubai were neither raped nor arrested? Hurray Dubai?

  7. NickJOCW
    NickJOCW
    July 19, 2013, 9:53 am

    Can it really be that even the most avid American Israelophile can wish to see settlers known worldwide for their sub-human attitudes and actions given unmonitored access to the US mainland?

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