Friday, September 25, 2020

Palestinian-Americans denied entry to their homeland

By Anna Germaine - April 15, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [denied entry] [border crossings] [Israeli security threats]

Photo by Michele Monni

“Do you have family here?” an Israeli security officer at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv asked Ghada, a Palestinian-American educator returning to Palestine receiving her Master’s Degree and spending some time abroad for a few years. 

“Yes, my family lives in Al-Ram,” she replied truthfully. 

“Oh, Al-Ram. So in Israel,” the security officer responded.

“No, Al-Ram is actually in Palestine.”

“You know that there is no such thing as Palestine, right?”

“We have our political differences.”

Ghada was then escorted to a small room for interrogation. At Ben Gurion airport, or any of Israel’s land borders, this is routine—and basically guaranteed with any mention of Palestine, Palestinian heritage or possible affiliations with the Palestinian cause. 

After a lengthy interrogation, she was eventually given a two week visa—even after telling the security officer that her mother was ill and she would definitely need to stay for at least three months, the normal length of a tourist visa given to most of Israel’s visitors without Palestinian or Arab lineage. Still the officer told her that this was the most that he could do for given “security reasons”—which apparently constitutes even so much as mentioning Palestine, or being Palestinian. 

Any affiliation with Palestine, whether it is through work or simply mentioned in an e-mail, can categorize a potential visitor to Israel as a “security threat” rather than simply a tourist

For the now over 6 million Palestinians in the diaspora, many of whom have now forged careers in the US and Europe, this makes visiting family in the homeland extraordinarily difficult. 

According to the Right to Enter Campaign based in Ramallah, a legal resource for those visiting the West Bank who have been denied entry to Israel, Israel’s crackdowns on granting tourist visas to Palestinian-Americans and anyone who might be suspected of visiting the West Bank have intensified this year. While in years gone by many Palestinian-Americans and foreign nationals coming to work in Palestine were easily granted permission to enter Israel, and often stayed by renewing three-month tourist visas, this is becoming more and more difficult. 

“All of my Palestinian-American friends who have tried to come have been denied entry this year,” Ghada confirms, after specifically requested that her last name not be used in this article for safety reasons. 

“Many others are afraid to try—now just isn’t the right time for us to come.”

Since 2000, Israel has stopped granting visitor permits to the Occupied Palestinian territory Now, if someone wishes to visit Palestine—for a family visit, tourism or work—they have to either lie at the Israeli border, or tell the truth and risk being deported for “security reasons,” which is increasingly the same as “daring to mention Palestine.”

For internationals coming to Palestine to work or academic purposes, this has severely limited their ability to do their jobs or conduct their studies in Palestine. Since May 2006, the University has seen a 50 percent decline in employees with foreign passports. For Palestinians, and Palestinians with second passports who have family in the West Bank, this policy has closed the only way for non-resident spouses to live with their resident families. Now, many relatives and spouses are staying in the Occupied Palestinian Territory illegally to be close to their relatives—and could be deported at a moments notice. 

Often journalists, both international and Palestinian, and even more often bloggers and photographers whose work focuses on human rights and could carry an “activist” connotation, are particularly targeted. At the airport or land borders, the Israeli authorities do not hesitate to Google names and hack e-mails without permission. Any affiliation with Palestine, whether it is through work or simply mentioned in an e-mail, can categorize a potential visitor to Israel as a “security threat” rather than simply a tourist. The most recent case was Mark Kerrison, a British photojournalist whose work focuses on human rights, who was denied entry to Israel at the end of March.

“It is difficult for me to be loud with my opinions,” says Ghada, who also identifies as a writer.

Although many NGOs and other international institutions claim that they can secure visas for workers living and working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the number of those that are able to do this in practice is decreasing. For one, Israel is beginning to crack down on which organizations qualify for a B1 work visa, making those employees work through acquiring B2 tourist visas instead, which then must be renewed.

Ghada—partially due to her own and her friends’ experiences with lawyers and acquiring visas through strategically accepting certain jobs—doesn’t have much faith in institutions that allegedly help those who have been denied entry or are at risk of being denied entry. 

“At the end of the day, the Israeli authorities are the ones who decide,” she concludes.


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