Two weeks have passed now since I was standing in the Ben Gurion airport office of Israeli Border Control being told that I had been denied entry. Israeli Minister for Internal Security Gilad Erdan stated that I was barred due to my actions of the previous summer: “Gold has distributed videos on social networks, in which she harasses IDF soldiers and Border Police officers in Hebron, accusing the soldiers of apartheid and oppression, and that their actions do not conform to Jewish values.”
My denial of entry received an enormous amount of coverage in Israeli and American Jewish media. Though I am disappointed I was not able to get into the country, I am glad that what happened to me contributed in a strong and positive way to the conversations that are taking place right now in Israeli and diaspora Jewish communities around Palestinian rights and democracy. But, refusing to allow me into the country is only a small glimpse of Israel’s border policies.
Since Israel’s founding in 1948, predicated on the forced displacement of around 750,000 Palestinians, it has been an official policy of the state to deny reentry to those who were expelled.
In December 1948, seven months after Israel declared statehood, the United National General Assembly adopted Resolution 194. Article 11 stated: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property…”
Almost a full 70 years have now passed since the resolution was adopted and Article 11 has yet to be fulfilled. When the Great March of Return launched in Gaza on May 30, 2018, it clearly declared its aspiration that the right of return be implemented. Approximately 70% of the population in Gaza are refugees. They are still waiting to reenter what is now the state of Israel. So far their peaceful protests have been met with the slaughter of over 140, including journalists, medics, and children.
Not only is Israel continuing to deny reentry to Palestinian refugees who are scattered around the world, but concentrated in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, and Jordan, but they are continuously creating more refugees and displacement. Israel is currently attempting to demolish the entire Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, displacing families and livestock, and destroying an ecologically sustainable school built out of tires. Khan al-Ahmar is caught between two expanding Israeli settlements. If the demolition goes through (it is currently being contested in Israel’s Supreme court), it will split the West Bank in two, cutting off West Bank Palestinians’ access to Jerusalem.
The media pays close attention to denials of entry to people like me, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director Rabbi Alissa Wise in 2016, Columbia law professor Katherine Franke and Center for Constitutional Rights executive director Vincent Warren this past May, and the current Israeli effort to deport Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir.
The media rarely discusses the much more common denial of entry to scores of Muslims and diaspora Palestinians. In 2014, in exchange for Israel’s entry into the US visa waiver program, Israel promised more “egalitarian treatment” of Palestinian Americans trying to enter Israel. But, in 2016, the US rebuked Israel for continued discrimination against Arab-Americans following the denial of entry to five members of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (then named the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation), four of whom were Muslim people of color and one of whom who was profiled for having a long beard. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “The US government remains concerned about unequal treatment that some Arab-Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.”
Israel’s goal of denying entry to Palestinian-Americans and individuals like myself is an attempt to increasingly isolate Palestinians living on the ground, especially Palestinian activists who work directly with activist groups like CODEPINK, and research and advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch.
It is about reducing the documentation and exposure of Israeli crimes. This is why groups like If Not Now, who are using their Jewish American privilege for bold and creative actions to move the American Jewish community and directly expose Israel’s oppressive policies, are so effective and important.
Palestinian author Nada Elia was correct in writing that Americans don’t have to “go into Hebron, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, to see for themselves what Palestinians have been documenting for decades.” It isn’t that I need to be in Hebron or Nabi Saleh or Bethlehem to do my work or see for myself what is going on. Campaigns like the Stolen Homes to get Airbnb out of settlements and the Stop Elbit campaign (which CODEPINK is launching this week), to boycott and divest from the Israeli weapons giant, can be worked on from outside Palestine and Israel. However, activists on the ground in Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nabi Saleh are clear that they appreciate and want international activists to visit and join in protesting, filming, and building joint campaigns.
Israel will stop at nothing to increase the repression that Palestinians on the ground live under. This includes continuing to deny Palestinian refugees the right of return, maintaining the siege on Gaza, passing laws that ban the filming of soldiers, the nation-state law that would legalize the most blatant forms of Israeli discrimination, attacking Israeli activists, and denying entry to Muslims, diaspora Palestinians, and international activists who advocate for Palestinian rights. We must not let them win.