Guest contribution by Jareer Kassis
In a recent Haaretz article, Amira Hass reported that Israel denied yet another American citizen of Palestinian descent re-entry into the occupied West Bank. As always, the Israeli authorities invoked the perpetual “security risk” excuse without bothering to elaborate on why an American high-school teacher who held a position at a Quaker institution in Ramallah was deemed a threat. While denying entry of Americans who belong to a particular ethnicity into Israel or the territories it controls (and is required by the Oslo agreements to grant access to) is almost routine, it comes as the U.S. Congress is considering granting Israeli citizens visa-free entry into the United States. If Israel is allowed to join this “Visa Waiver Program (VWP)”, it would necessitate the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State having to lie.
“The Government of Israel has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal privileges are extended to all United States citizens.” (Emphasis mine.)
The evidence gathered over multiple reports spanning the last few years shows that Israel’s treatment of United States citizens is anything but reciprocal. As early as 2006, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained to the Israeli foreign minister (the undeservingly respected Tzipi Livni) about the ill-treatment of Palestinian-Americans by Israel, and also promised later that year to “ensure that all American travelers receive fair and equal treatment”. Yet the reports of Americans humiliated and/or denied entry at Israeli borders are abundant.
Consider the saga of Sandra Tamari, an American who was detained for hours while forced to grant her Israeli interrogators access to her personal email account before being forced onto a flight back to the U.S. When Sandra tried to contact the U.S. embassy from the airport before her expulsion, her request was ignored because, according to her account of the incident, she was not Jewish. Also in 2012, two friends, Najwa Doughman and Sasha Al-Sarabi, were detained, emotionally abused, and subjected to humiliating treatment for hours before being expelled. In response to episodes like these, which have been occurring for several years now, a website was created to document these abuses and establish a database for those Western citizens denied entry by Israeli border agents.
It is worth noting that the “security” excuse is entirely untenable. These individuals are not guilty – or even accused – of advocating violence, and are not on any no-fly lists as persons who are security risks presumably would be. Americans denied entry are actually returned to the United States, their home country, where they are neither arrested or even interrogated. Those who pose such a security risk as to be denied entry to one country wouldn’t, in logical circumstances, be transported to that country’s strongest friend and ally unless to be extradited. This is clearly not the case here.
Considering Israel for entry to the VWP becomes more alarming given statements by the U.S. government itself. A travel advisory published on the webpage of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem clearly lists the discriminatory policies of Israel against certain U.S. citizens. It advises (in a manner tantamount to an endorsement) that those Americans “with connections to the West Bank . . . may be given an entry stamp that permits travel only in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank”. This clear violation of the Oslo Accords is also a meaningless phrase since the Palestinian Authority areas, as well as the Palestinian Authority itself, are under the umbrella control of Israel.
The Consulate also advises:
Those whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin; those who have been involved in missionary work or activism; and those who ask that Israeli stamps not be entered into their passports may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may even be denied entry into Israel or the West Bank. (Emphases mine.)
The Consulate further advises that
The Government of Israel does not currently permit U.S. citizens with Palestinian nationality (or even, in some cases, the claim to it) to enter Israel via Ben Gurion International Airport. Many travelers have been sent back to the U.S. upon arrival. Others have been allowed to enter Israel but told they cannot depart Israel via Ben Gurion without special permission, which is rarely granted . . .
U.S. citizens with Palestinian passports must use the Allenby Bridge-King Hussein border crossing to enter or exit the West Bank. They are not permitted to transit via Ben Gurion International Airport.
What this means is that American citizens of Palestinian or Arab descent (even those who are naturalized and have thus renounced all their non-US allegiances) are still discriminated against by Israel and, in the case of Palestinians, are required to obtain special documents, such as Palestinian passports, that dramatically restrict their freedom of movement. Even American infants born in the U.S. to Palestinian parents are not spared the requirement of obtaining Palestinian passports and thus restrictions in movement.
Thus, with the full knowledge and (apart from an occasional claim of concern and request for “clarification”) acquiescence of the U.S. State Department, U.S. citizens are being openly and regularly discriminated against by Israeli border agents in an appallingly racist manner. This treatment is tantamount to an Israeli Jew being either denied entry to the U.S. based on his or her religion or, at best, being allowed only into New York City or Los Angeles. By any measure, these practices by Israel against U.S. citizens do not satisfy the requirement of reciprocity as determined in the bills currently before Congress. In fact, these practices would elicit a harsh response by the U.S. had they been adopted by any other country – ally or not. Therefore, unless the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security choose to ignore these egregious facts and issue fraudulent certifications of Israeli compliance with the reciprocity requirements, Israel does not belong in the Visa Waiver Program.
Jareer Kassis is a biology research scientist currently working in North Carolina. He was raised in Ramallah.