Photo of Dina Shehadeh at her family home in al-Bireh near Ramallah by Allison Deger
Dina Shehadeh, 17, was about to begin her senior year of high school in Ohio where she was born and raised. But two weeks ago, after spending the summer with her extended family in the West Bank, she was separated from her mother and detained inside of Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. Israeli security then told Dina that she was not allowed to leave the country—at least not through the airport.
While detained on the night of August 13, 2014 when she was scheduled to fly on El Al flight 1, Dina learned to her surprise that Israeli security no longer considered her an American citizen with American travel privileges. The Palestinian identification card her family filed for her the year before, a registry requirement for children of West Bank Palestinian ID holders, erases her rights as a U.S. citizen.
“We put aside the American passport for this matter and they are only Palestinian,” said the Israeli Ministry of Interior office at Ben Gurion Airport to Mondoweiss. As of her 16th birthday, Dina now needs a special permit from the army to enter the airport. “Otherwise he can leave through Gaza for Egypt, and Jordan from Allenby [a West Bank land crossing].”
Israel’s policy of limiting travel through Ben-Gurion for Palestinian-Americans has recently come under fire when last April Israel made a bid for a U.S. visa waiver program. To be eligible, the U.S. State Department said Israel needed to reduce the number of deportations and travel bans imposed on Palestinian-Americans. In April spokesperson Jen Psaki said at a press briefing Israel needed to ease up, “The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian-Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition.” However, no changes have been announced.
“When I was first detained they told me to sit on some chairs outside and all I heard them ask my mom was who is her dad, what is his name?” said Dina recounting how she was held in an airport employee office for five hours without her passport. Then Dina said the Israeli authorities yelled at her mother, Nedha Shehadeh and so she walked away to avoid the confrontation. “When my mom said this is the last time we’ll come back if this is how we are treated the lady told her I don’t care.” Airport security then said to Nedha she should board the flight to JFK in New York that the pair had booked, indicating that Dina would to join her on the plane before take off.
However Dina was not allowed to board and instead was kept in an employee room inside of Ben Gurion airport until the next day. Her mother was on the plane and flew to New York, unable to de-board by the time she realized that something had happened to her daughter.
Security officials asked Dina a few questions about her family tree, her father’s name, his father’s name, etc., and then she was left alone for hours. “It was an office where all of the people work there clock in and out,” she said. When her passport was finally returned to her, Dina was told she was allowed to leave the airport to return to the West Bank.
But Dina didn’t know how to get to the West Bank from Tel Aviv and found herself in the precarious position of being without a phone, in foreign country, in an airport that she’s legally not allowed to be in. And so she cried.
“I was just sitting there the whole time for like two hours by myself,” said Dina, explaining her father had planned to travel back to the U.S. via Jordan a few days later, but she didn’t know how to reach him. Also, airport security had taken all of her mothers checked luggage off of the plane and dropped them off with her, too big and too heavy to carry. She sat on the hallway floor outside of the room where she had been detained, “until this man that works there took me to a office and I used his phone to call my father,” she said.
In 2008 after spending two decades abroad Dina’s father had a comparable situation while flying into Ben Gurion airport in order to travel on to the West Bank. He too was detained. Airport authorities then put him on a flight to Jordan and told him he needed to renew his Palestinian ID and could no longer use the Israeli airport. But before 2000, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza had a legal right to access the Tel Aviv airport and technically they still do today. However during the second Intifada the army instituted a temporary security provision requiring Palestinians to obtain an “airport permit,” which Dina and her family were not aware of. And even though the Intifada has long since ended, the security requirements for Palestinians using Ben Gurion have only increased.
Still when Dina flew into Ben Gurion at the beginning of the summer, she breezed through passport control without hassle.
“They have two different kinds of U.S. citizens.” Said Abdulsalam Shehadeh, Dina’s father pointing to his daughter’s green Palestinian ID card, continuing, “even though we didn’t want these, but they gave them to us.”
There is no process in place for Dina to renounce or rid herself of her Palestinian ID card and become American in the eyes of Israel again. Her ID card is more of a hindrance than a benefit. It does not grant her additional rights. It does not make her a citizen, as Palestine is not an independent country. Rather by having the Palestinian ID, Dina is troubled by no longer being allowed to visit Jerusalem or the beaches of Tel Aviv—like other Americans. At a checkpoint, Dina has to stand in the line for Palestinians not foreigners, which is often longer, and she can only drive a car with Green license plates, a special marker for West Bank Palestinians.
Being viewed by Israel as a Palestinian also means Dina is subject to harsh military codes. If she were to get a minor traffic violation such as speeding, she would be prosecuted under military law and could face three-months in jail. By contrast any other American citizen would be issued a ticket and a nominal fine.
Within two days of Dina’s detention at Ben Gurion airport Abdulsalam had already contacted his congressional representative, the American Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank. The latter issued Dina a special “airport permit” that puts in writing that she is not a security threat, and allowed her to board a flight from Ben Gurion.
“They should have told her when she was coming to their country ‘hey we don’t want you go back’ they do that to a lot of people,” he said, continuing, “Why would you let her in, when she’s leaving with her mother, a minor underage, and separate her from her mother. This is the whole issue.”