Posted by David Curtis on August 17, 2015 in Blog
Arab Americans and American Muslims know all too well the troubles and humiliations one encounters when attempting to travel to Israel or Palestine. Cases of American citizens being denied entry to Israel are plentiful and well-documented; in fact, even the U.S. State Department has warned that “U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern or Muslim origin … may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may be denied entry into Israel.” This not-so-tacit acknowledgement of racism against our own citizens by one of our greatest allies is a troubling concession.
What’s worse, American government officials often do nothing to help relieve the hardships of these American citizens; this is just “business as usual” in Israel.
But even considering that Israel is one of America’s strongest partners – and far-and-away the top benefactor of U.S. aid to foreign countries – the small Middle Eastern nation must be feeling left out: Israel is not included on America’s exclusive list of 38 countries whose citizens need not obtain a visa to enter the United States. But the “visa waiver program,” or VWP, has been pushed for by some Israel supporters in congress – backed by AIPAC, of course.
Unfortunately for Israel, a key stipulation of the VWP states that America will receive reciprocity if it allows citizens of a certain country to travel to the U.S. visa-free. And clearly, American citizens have had enough trouble at Israel’s border to know that this mutual agreement cannot be kept, barring a drastic change in Israel’s border security policies.
U.S. congress members have attempted to sneak special language into a bill for Israel (that was not included for any other VWP country), specifying that Israel need only make “every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the state of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.”
In no other context could American politicians possibly defend a foreign country’s security at the expense of American citizens’ rights. This is especially distressing, considering the State Department’s own admission that Americans of “Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin” have a heightened chance of scrutiny and deportation when trying to gain access to Israel.
Thankfully, legislation granting Israel these special privileges has not passed in congress. And hopefully Israel will continue to remain far from breaking into the list of eligible VWP countries, unless there are real steps taken by Israeli security to allow all Americans into Israel without these continued detainments and deportations.
But issues with Israel denying Americans of Palestinian ancestry have not abated. In just the last few weeks, prominent writer Susan Abulhawa and language professor George Khoury were each held and questioned for extended periods, and eventually put on a plane back to the United States without ever stepping foot in Israel. Here at AAI, we are documenting instances of Arab Americans who have been harassed or denied at the Israeli border, and if you have had an experience like this, we invite you to share your story here.
David Curtis is an intern with the Arab American Institute