The Israeli High Court ruled on Thursday to overturn the state’s decision to deny entry to Lara Alqasem, the 22-year-old Palestinian-American Graduate student who has been in Israeli detention for 16 days at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
Alqasem was released from the detention facility around 9 pm, and she was greeted by lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel.
She issued the following statement through her lawyers: “I’m relieved at the court’s decision and am incredibly grateful for the work of my amazing and tireless lawyers…as well as the support of my family and friends,” adding that she “will be happy to say more when I’ve had a chance to rest and process.”
Following the High Court’s decision to allow Alqasem into the country on Thursday, her lawyers reported that the state had decided not to appeal the decision.
Alqasem’s case drew international attention after she was denied entry by Israel to participate in a Master’s program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, on the grounds that she was previously active in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Following two weeks of failed appeals in Israeli district courts, Alqasem’s lawyers Leora Bechor and Ben-Hillel celebrated their win on Thursday.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom, and the rule of law,” Bechor and Ben-Hillel said in a statement. “Israel has the right to control its borders, but that right does not give the Ministry of Interior unchecked power to turn away anyone it deems unwanted.”
“By taking a principled and brave stand against a wildly escalating power play by the Ministry of Interior, Lara has ensured that no one else should be denied the right to enter Israel based on sloppy Google searches and dossiers by shadowy smear groups,” they said.
“Lara’s case proves that thought-policing has no place in a democracy,” they continued.
The legal basis for barring Alqasem from Israel, is the government’s 2017 anti-BDS law which gives authorities the right to prohibit entry to foreigners who publicly act to boycott Israel or its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The government argued that Alqasem previously participated in groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) which support BDS, and took part in BDS activities in 2018 — a claim which they could not support with evidence, as Alqasem had deleted her Facebook profile.
During the initial High Court hearing on Wednesday, the state said that because Alqasem deleted her Facebook profile, it proved she was a BDS activist because “that is what BDS activists do.”
Her lawyers, however, argued that Alqasem “does not meet the evidentiary test of what it means to be an activist,” adding that there is “no paper or digital trail” that she is a BDS activist, and that she has made no public statements in support of the movement.
They also argued that the current anti-BDS law in place gives the government the permission to deny entry to “leading activists” working in a “consistent and continuous” manner, a criterion that does not apply to Alqasem.