Posted by Arab American Institute on September 23, 2015 in Blog
The Arab American Institute is collecting stories of American citizens who have been harassed, detained, or deported when attempting to enter Israel or Palestine for over 30 years. Here are some of the stories we've collected. If you've personally experienced such an incident, please let us know by using this form. All personal information will be kept private and stories will not be distributed without your expressed permission.
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If you are planning to travel to Israel and/or Palestine, please look at our guide on "What to Do If You Are Stopped at the Israeli Border"
Stories of Harrassment, Detention, and Deportation at the Israeli Border
DOI: December 21, 2016 - Location: Ovda Airport (Southern Israel)
Upon arrival from Budapest, Ms. Porche - a U.S. citizen - was subjected to lengthy and intense questioning regarding her political beliefs, connections in Palestine, family history, and personal life. Ms. Porche was traveling to Israel for tourism reasons and was planning to volunteer at a hotel in Jericho following her travels. During her interrogation, Israeli airport security repeatedly pressured her and threatened deportation. She was then questioned again about her political beliefs and her social media activity that showed support for the International Solidarity Movement and various Palestinian causes. She was told this online activity caused her to be flagged. After an hour, Ms. Porche was told that she had been denied entry, banned for 10 years from entering Israel, and was then escorted by an armed guard to a plane with a handwritten note for the pilot. Afterwards, Ms. Porche discovered that the value of her return ticket had been deducted out of her bank account without her permission or knowledge. Her bank statement read "paid via warrant."
DOI: August 2016 - Location: Ben Gurion Airport
After having been granted a permit to enter Gaza by COGAT (with sponsorship from a Swedish NGO), a U.S. citizen was detained for 13 hours before being deported. According to the airport security, the letter of invitation provided by the Swedish NGO mentioned a Palestinian organization that is "illegal in Israel." Ms. Bailey was verbally informed she could not enter Israel for 10 years.
DOI: 8/13/2016 - Location: Ben Gurion Airport
A U.S. citizen was detained and interrogated at Ben Gurion airport for 12 hours, then brought to a dismal holding cell at a detention center for another 11 hours before being deported on August 14th. During 23+ hours of being held in detention, she was only allowed to use the restroom by request with an escort, and was separated from her belongings (including her cell phone) for long periods of time, up to 10 hours in one case. Israeli officials accused her of having a "bad attitude problem" and tried to intimidate her by suggesting she was "making a stupid decision" for refusing to let them search her phone and email account. Israeli officials asked about her religion, schooling, interest in the Arabic language, and contacts n the West Bank.
DOI: 7/17/2016 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
A U.S. citizen of South Asian descent was harassed and denied entry when travelling to Israel-Palestine in order to observe the conditions under which Palestinians live. During an 18 hour ordeal at the Israeli border, she was yelled at, handcuffed, and threatened with force without explanation. She was told that any rights she had a US citizen were invalid under Israeli law. She says “their dehumanization of me was based on a 'hunch' rooted in nothing more than my name and ethnic background." This story was originally reported by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation online here.
Former Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (South Florida), and co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson
DOI: 7/17/2016 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
A U.S. citizen was harassed and denied entry to Israel-Palestine in order to observe the conditions under which Palestinians live. Although they demanded access to his private email and names of any Palestinian activists he knew, he refused and was interrogated for many hours. He told them he wanted to visit a famous mosque in Palestine and was subsequently mocked. His faith was insulted, he was strip searched, and then shoved into a holding cell. He says that degrading treatment he faced as a Muslim in the U.S. “pales in comparison.” This story was originally reported by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation online here.
Director of Grassroots Organizing, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
DOI: 7/17/2016 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
A U.S. citizen was harassed and denied entry to Israel-Palestine in order to observe the conditions under which Palestinians live. A security officer called her a terrorist in the waiting area in front of everyone, accusing her of planning to bomb the area and threatening to tell the U.S. government these things. This seemed out-of-the-blue and Kudaimi believes it was simply because she is visibly Muslim and wears hijab. This story was originally reported by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation online here.
New York City public defender
DOI: 7/17/2016 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
A U.S. citizen was harassed and denied entry to Israel-Palestine in order to observe the conditions under which Palestinians live. She was put in a dirty holding cell without any explanation and without knowing when she would be released. As an attorney with a human rights background, she was “outraged by this level of blatant discrimination.” This story was originally reported by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation online here.
Mary G. Akel
DOI: 4/26/2016 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
A U.S. born citizen was denied entry to the West Bank when attempting to visit family and friends living in Ramallah. She was detained for approximately three hours before being interrogated “as if [she] was a criminal.” During this interrogation, she was accused of lying about her visit and planning to live in Palestine. She attempted to explain that she has health conditions resulting from three separate 7-hour back surgeries that would make it impossible to stay in Palestine for too long, as she must live near her doctors in the U.S.A (as proof that she was not planning to live in Palestine and was not lying about her visit). However, the Israeli Border Control agent refused to listen and denied her entry into Palestine and she was not able to see her family.
Kristian Davis Bailey
Activist and Writer
DOI: 12/2015 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
Terrence James Lahem
Student, Brockton, MA
DOI: 4/10/2015 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
A U.S. born citizen was detained when attempting to visit Jerusalem with friends from his study abroad program in Jordan during the Orthodox Easter weekend. His Arabic last name comes from his grandparents on his father’s side, who were Syrian immigrants. He says
“Upon handing my passport to the Israeli official, I could tell something was off as she examined my passport, fixated on my name. She asked me to say my full name; I did, several times upon request. Then, still unsatisfied, she asked if I spoke Arabic, which of course I do since I am studying the language in Jordan. I told to follow another official, who asked me if I spoke Arabic in Arabic… my father’s name… and other questions to try to determine an Arab identity without directly asking.”
Additionally, it was implied that if he did not open his email for the Israeli Border Officials to look through he would be denied entry and he witnessed other people being made to log in to their Facebook accounts. His personal journal was read, and he was accused of wanting to convert to Islam, which he found very strange because there were no mentions of Islam in his journal. He was also asked if he was a member of any Arab student organizations and partially strip searched. After this two-hour ordeal (which he recalls as being comparatively short thanks to the support of the other students in his group), he was cleared and left the interrogation room. At this point, he handed his passport to a border official against and stopped once more when he asked about his last name. This led him to believe that the Israeli Border Officials have a policy of stopping anyone with an Arabic name. Once it had been communicated that he was already cleared, he was allowed through.
Businessman, Brooklyn, NY
DOI: 7/23/2015 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
A 62-year-old U.S. citizen and his sons were denied entry to the West Bank when attempting to attend a family wedding in the West Bank. Although he had not visited Palestine in more than two decades, his U.S. passport was rejected and he was told that he needed to acquire a Palestinian ID and that, as a Palestinian, he could only enter through Jordan, via the Allenby Bridge. He was denied entry on the basis of “prevention of illegal immigration considerations". He was forced to purchase, at his own expense, a return ticket back the United States.
You can read more about his story here: http://www.aaiusa.org/an_open_letter_to_secretary_of_state_john_kerry_and_attorney_general_loretta_lynch
Professor and Catholic Deacon in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
DOI: 7/21/2015 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
A 70-year old Palestinian American was detained for more than a day while attempting to make a Holy Land pilgrimage with a friend, who happened to be a priest. Although he had not visited Palestine in more than two decades, he was told that he needed to acquire a Palestinian ID and that, as a Palestinian, he could only enter through Jordan, via the Allenby Bridge. Upon emphasizing that he was an American, travelling with an American passport that should be respected, he was mocked and told “"No, no, you belong with the Palestinian people. This is our Israel, this is for the Jews. No Palestinian should come to Israel. He was eventually denied entry and forced to purchase, at his own expense, a return ticket back to the United States. In response, George Khoury's daughter wrote a letter of complaint to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. The US Embassy essentially replied that there was nothing to be done. You can read more about his story here: http://www.aaiusa.org/an_open_letter_to_secretary_of_state_john_kerry_and_attorney_general_loretta_lynch
Arab American Grad Student, Mount Airy, Maryland
DOI: 6/7/2014 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
While travelling to Israel to conduct graduate school research, an Arab-American graduate student was detained upon entry for more than 6 hours. Though her research colleagues had the same documentation as her, which explicitly stated the purpose of the trip, her non-Arab colleagues were granted entry and only she was detained. During detainment, she was asked questions about her ancestry; she was ignored when tried to ask why she was being held, and her requests to notify the US Embassy or call home were denied.
Teacher, Washington, DC.
DOI: 6/6/14 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
Having been in Israel teaching in Nablus over more than 6 months, a female US citizen was attempting to fly home to the United States. Having made a friend who was an Israeli-American solider, she arrived at Ben Gurion Airport hoping for an easy flight home. Her friend smoothed the way for her speaking to officials in Hebrew. Still, after she told the authorities that she had been in Israel to teach, the questions exploded. Three sets of people came over to question her including their supervisor. They asked her about her Arabic language summer program in Morocco, and why she’d decided to study Arabic, and whether she had packed her own bag, and who she was teaching with and why. After only about two hours, it was over and she was allowed into Ben Gurion to fly home. Despite the relative ease of her experience this time, Israeli authorities still gave her a surprise when they handed back her passport with a Level 6 sticker on it denoting that the twenty-five year old elementary school teacher, on a 1 – 6 scale, was considered among the “greatest threats to Israeli security”. Because of the security threat rating, she worries she’ll be denied a visa to return in Fall 2014 to continue teaching.
“I truly believe that if [the Israeli-American Soldier] hadn’t been with me, it would have been much worse,” she says.
DOI: 4/14/2014 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
An American woman born in Lebanon with half-Palestinian Christian heritage was returning to Israel to reconnect with her family after her mother’s death and deepen her Christian faith. She was detained for 4 hours at Ben Gurion Airport, her passport confiscated, and interrogated by three different agents who demanded her cell phone, her email, and details on all of her contacts, as well as roughly searched her suit case. She says, “If this is how they treat Americans, shame on them!”
Palos Hills, IL
DOI: 4/3/2014 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
An American of Palestinian heritage and her husband tried to enter Israel via the Allenby Bridge Crossing on April 3rd, 2014. She’s been travelling the border for more than 40 years, but this time the officer at the border demanded her phone and searched for calls and found out that she had been calling her sister in Ramallah. After 10 hours of interrogation, she was denied entry into Israel. She tried again on April 14th, and again on April 23rd, receiving a denial each time. When she tried to contact the US Embassy in Chicago for help, they said they could do nothing for her.
Columbia University Student, New York City
DOI: 1/7/2014 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv
After spending two weeks visiting with friends in Israel and the West Bank, an American citizen of Sephardic Jewish and Hispanic heritage returned to Tel Aviv for a flight back to her home in New York City. After a failed automatic check-in with her flight, she approached the airport attendant to ask what was wrong and was immediately led to a security area and interrogated. At first, the questions resembled the regular, if frustrating, security protocol: Why did you visit, where did you come from, how long have you been here, who did you stay with, etc. Then they started getting more in depth, asking her to show them pictures of herself and her family, and then demanding her phone to search her Facebook page and her friends Facebook pages. They asked her where the name “Salazar” came from. While she was eventually let through, she remains angry at the invasive interrogation and profiling that happened to her.
Professor, Hammont, NJ
DOI: 1/2/2014 – Location: Allenby Crossing
An academic and Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies was attempting to travel from Amman to Jerusalem and Nablus to conduct research. During that time, she was detained and interrogated for 10 hours at the Allenby Crossing on January 2nd, 2014. Israeli security harassed her, and insinuated that, as a mother, her research too dangerous for her and was hurting her children, and that there was no “conflict” in Israel. After the interrogation, her passport was returned and the professor was denied entry to Israel.
DOI: 11/24/13 – Location: King Hussein / Allenby Crossing
In November 2013, a female U.S. citizen was detained and interrogated at the King Hussein / Allenby Crossing for over 5 hours.
She had come to Israel to teach English in Nablus after working in DC for several years. She’d arrived with a Canadian citizen of Palestinian descent, and had left briefly to travel to Petra before returning to her work in Israel. Once Israeli authorities found out she’d already been there for three months working, one female official flat out said she couldn’t return since she’d been there “long enough.” Then Israeli authorities questioned her four times over the course of 5 hours with the same questions of “Where exactly have you been in Israel? Why did you leave Israel? Why do you need to return to Israel? Who is funding your travel? How much money is in your bank account?”
She was led to believe she wouldn’t be given a visa, or that she’d be given a shorter one than the thee months she needed. Finally, they returned her passport and let her go with her colleague, but not before bestowing one final gift. Israeli authorities issued her a Judaea and Sumaria Stamp, which limited her freedom of movement so tightly that it barred her from physically going to either the American Consulate in Jerusalem or the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
Alisha Charlene Robinson El-Yassir
DOI: 8/24/2013 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
“First of all, I would like to let you know that I am not ethnically Arab. I was born and raised in America and come from an Irish/Native American background” writes an American citizen who was a volunteer English teacher in Bethlehem. Her surname was a remnant from her Palestinian ex-husband, divorced now for over 5 years. She was in Israel to teach English at Deheishe Refugee Camp near Bethlehem.
On August 3rd, 2013, she landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and as soon as Israeli Passport Control saw her passport she was led to a waiting room for several hours.
Finally, an officer called her in and the interrogation began: What is your father and grand father’s name? Robinson. Why do you have an Arab last name? Did [your husband] have family in Palestine? Did he ever visit Palestine? Are you still in contact with each other? Do you know anyone in Israel?
She was not allowed to speak to her host who was waiting for her, and was interrogated three times in 6 hours before finally being allowed to pass.
The same treatment awaited her when she returned to fly out of Tel Aviv, where she was asked where she had travelled in Israel, and the custom’s officials took her phone and inquired about every name in her contacts list that sounded Arab or Muslim.
CEO, Bethesda, MD
DOI: 6/28/2013 – Location: Allenby Bridge
Sir Rateb Rabie was born in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian parents, before coming to the United States in 1976 and becoming a naturalized American citizen. He is currently the CEO of the Holy Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF). On June 7th, 2013, as head of a delegation of diaspora Palestinian teens from the US, Australia, Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala, most of who had never been to Palestine, he and his delegation were detained for 7 hours and had their passports confiscated. What followed was a ‘long’, ‘invasive’, multi-hour interrogation: Who is your father? And your father’s father? Where did he live? Are you quite sure that’s his name? Do you have family in Palestine? What are their names? Their children’s names? Are you sure that your name is Carlos? What is your email address? Your cell-phone number?
“It seems the worst treatment is reserved for diaspora Palestinians who have the audacity to return to the country which was confiscated from their grandparents. Regardless of where they were raised, the Israeli Border Control treats Palestinians with distrust and contempt . . . When will the Israeli authorities stop profiling Palestinians . . .?”
US Citizen, Paterson, NJ
In April 2013, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent traveled to Israel to visit family friends and see Jerusalem and the holy land. She was detained and interrogated at Ben Gurion Airport.
“The interrogation was aggressive and extreme and the only people I saw in the interrogation area were Arabs and Muslims. I was asked about every detail of my personal life, including whether I speak Arabic [and] why I was going to Dubai after Israel.
“[The security officer] forced me to tell her every detail about my friend who lives in Dubai including her full name, address, e-mail and phone number. I complied with every demand because I did not want to be denied entry to Israel.
“I was born in Richmond, Virginia and have a clean criminal background, there is no reason why I had to be yelled at, harassed and have my rights violated.”
Upon leaving Israel, she was subjected to a “body search that involved pulling my pants down and my shirt up to swab my entire body.”
Dual U.S. - Egyptian Citizen, Astoria, N.Y.
In March 2013, a dual US-Egyptian citizen was detained for six hours at Allenby Bridge crossing into Israel from Jordan. She was repeatedly interrogated by different officers, and pestered as to the most trivial details about her life when her answers throughout the day didn’t line up (e.g., whether she had met her Jordanian friend in college or in high school).
“I was asked for personal information, discriminated upon because I spoke Arabic, asked for my email addresses so that they could look on my facebook page, asked of my religion which I did not find to be a pertinent question.
“I realize that there are others that have had a more difficult time [but] as an American citizen I expect to be treated courteously and fairly. I watched many people who came in after me, leave before me, while I was subject to endless questioning.
“I don’t see any reason why America should extend any extra niceties which eases travel for Israelis, while we as Arab-Americans do not receive anywhere near the same treatment.”
Nour Joudah, 25, is a Palestinian-American Masters graduate of Georgetown University. She taught at the Friends School in Ramallah, a Quaker institution, which has received millions in U.S. aid. She was denied entry in February 2013 after a trip to visit friends in Amman, Jordan. Joudah says she flew to Tel Aviv from Amman, and did so in coordination with the Israeli Embassy in DC, and yet despite that, the security at the airport denied her. Israeli authorities made Joudah wait 8 hours before they sent her to a detention center and then back to Amman thereafter. A judge denied the request by her lawyer for an emergency hearing. This was the second time Joudah was denied from entering Israel and teaching her three sections of thirty, 9th graders.
DOI: 1/13/2013 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
“I’ve visited the holy Lands four times since 2008 and every time I visit I am interrogated for hours,” writes a young American citizen of Palestinian Christian heritage. Crossing into Israel from Jordan, she was separated from line and detained for 11 hours of interrogation. During this time she was strip-searched, her backpack was ‘roughly’ searched multiple times, when she protested some of her treatment she had a gun pointed at her by a security guard. She was questioned frequently, and ultimately her entry to Israel was denied without explanation. She reports that as she left, she faced insults related to her Arab heritage from the security guards.
Brandeis University Grad Student, Raleigh, NC
DOI: 1/13/13 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
“I am an American citizen of Gambian descent”, says a Brandeis University graduate student travelled to Israel in order to volunteer at Deheisha Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and research youth empowerment. After deciding to travel to Petra and the Dead Sea, he attempted to return to Israel via the Allenby Bridge Crossing on August 26th, 2013.
Once his passport was checked, he was detained for 3 hours while being questioned. They asked, “What’s the purpose of your visit? Have you been to Somalia, Lebanon, Gaza, or Ramallah? Who is paying for your visit? What do you do? … What are your previous employers in the US? What’s your phone number in the US and Israel, and the addresses you stayed at? Do you know anyone in Israel? Do you have another passport? Are you lying?”
Finally, after repeatedly answering the same questions for hours, his passport was returned and the Passport Control agent said, “You are not allowed back in Israel for one hour!” He was then led back to a waiting bus and denied entry to Israel, thus missing his flight.
Public Health Professional, Bethesda, MD
In January 2013, a U.S. citizen of Lebanese and Palestinian heritage was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv after six hours of interrogation, while her husband was allowed in (her husband is also an American citizen of Lebanese descent). She was denied entry for refusing to answer questions or provide names and telephone numbers of her family and friends in Lebanon. She was told that the denial was based on suspicion she was a "terrorist", and because "they didn't like" that she was Muslim. This is incorrect on all counts: she works frequently on national security issues for the United States Government and has had a security clearance; and while religion is no excuse for discrimination in any event, this woman is not a Muslim, but a Christian.
College Student, Ellicott City, MD
DOI: 6/10/12 – Location: Ben Gurion
On June 10th, 2012, as college students with the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project, Shereen Shafi, an American citizen of Pakistani heritage, and Sundus, an Egyptian American, were immediately pulled out of their group of 8 which included three Jewish and three Christian Americans. Despite the other six getting through within minutes, Shereen and her fellow student endured over 2 hours of questioning which included: her name, her father’s name, where she was born, where her parents were born, whether she’d ever visited, whether she knows anyone in Israel, her phone number and email address, the purpose of the affiliated organization and its funders, as well as the names of everyone their group was scheduled to meet.
After an exhausting and humiliating interrogation, Shereen said, “this experience was truly disheartening.” Her and her Egyptian-American friend finally made it through with the help of persistent support from their program’s supervisor.
In May 2012, Palestinian-American woman, Sandra Tamari, was detained on her way to participate in a peace conference in Israel. After seeing her name, which indicated her Palestinian heritage, Israeli border officials kept her for more than eight hours, asking her to log in to her Facebook and Gmail accounts, apparently in search of evidence of her pro-Palestinian activism. When she contacted American consular officials at the embassy in Tel Aviv, they asked if she was Jewish, implying that little could (or would) be done for an Arab American being detained by the Israeli authorities. Needless to say, this exchange raises concerns that American officials do not protect the rights of Arab Americans to the same degree as those of other citizens.
Architect, New York, N.Y.
Najwa is an American citizen of Palestinian descent who (along with her friend) was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport after being subjected to invasive and inappropriate interrogation. The incident took place in May 2012, not during any period of heightened conflict. Security officers read and mocked her e-mails, and asked her why she wanted to return to Israel. They asked her, “Do you feel more Arab or more American?” The two women’s belongings were ransacked, and Najwa was subjected to an invasive pat-down search. They were held at a detention facility overnight and put on a plane to France. A representative at the U.S. Embassy, when they finally reached one, was unhelpful.
We had not committed any crime,” Najwa writes. “Our only sin was being born to Arab parents…We had always read about racial profiling and heard accounts from family members and friends…but never had we felt it first hand. They took all of our luggage and our phones and drove us about five minutes away from the airport to a gated, white building. All of the windows had double bars on them, and none of the doors had doorknobs. We walked through the dark halls and passed by open rooms filled with bunk beds.”
You can read Najwa’s full story here.
Researcher, Berkeley, CA
DOI: 2/27/2011 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing
A researcher was denied entry on February 27th, 2011 after undergoing 9 hours of extensive interrogations and invasive searches, asking about her university studies, family background, professional experiences, and history of activism, after which she was declared a “Liar” and refused entry.
DOI: 1/6/2011 – Location: Eilat, Sinai
“I am not an Arab. I am not Muslim. I am mixed-race, black and white American . . . I am not active in the Israel/Arab Conflict, and I have not written about it, and I am not married to an Arab or Muslim.” This was what a 40 year-old man from New York wrote about his experience attempting to visit Israel through the Eilat Border Entry.
He was immediately pulled out of a long line of Caucasian travelers attempting to enter Israel from Egypt. “The sole possible reason”, he says, “was my racial appearance as they had not yet seen my passport or done any checks.”
He was detained and interrogated for 9 hours while being strip-searched, having his luggage searched extensively, and asked about his parents, his grandparents, his feelings about Israel and his religious beliefs. After hours of this questioning, and three separate interrogations, and calls to their commanding officers, Israeli Passport Control stamped “Entry Denied” in his US Passport, and refused to answer any of his questions as to why.
After writing a letter of complaint to the US Embassy in Israel, he was told that the state of Israel decides who will enter their country and why, and there was nothing they could do about it even for an American citizen.
DOI: 4/20/2010 – Location: King Hussein / Allenby Crossing
On April 20th, 2010, a woman studying Arabic in Jordan was stopped at the Allenby Border crossing, and taken into a separate room where Border Control confiscated all her belongings. She was held for over three hours without her phone and was not allowed to call her friend who was waiting for her in Jerusalem. They questioned her on her purpose for visiting Israel, and for being in Jordan, and why she would want to study ‘Arabic’ and how it is a language that isn’t worth studying.
Palestinian-American Social Worker and Musician, Greensboro, NC
Sijal Nasralla is a young man from North Carolina who travelled to visit his family in Azarea, a village in the West Bank, in 2010. He had no background in Palestine-related activism, the international solidarity movement, or any other reason for the Israelis to be suspicious of him besides his heritage and his name. He was detained for over seven hours at the Allenby border crossing, subjected to repetitive, invasive questioning, and had his belongings searched more than once. There was no rhyme or reason to who the guards chose to question, what questions they asked or why. Sijal has been kind enough to provide us with a guest blog post, telling his story at length to paint a clear picture of the harassment and indignities that Americans regularly experience at the Israel-Palestine border.
Hasan A. Hammami
Punta Gor, FL
DOI: 9/11/2009 – Location Ben Gurion Airport
A 76-year-old Palestinian-American from Florida was the first person off his British Airways flight to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and was instantly asked by the Passport Officer to step aside where he was taken to a back office. He was forced to endure several hours of “disrespectful” questioning from plain clothes Israeli officials who alternated in asking related questions where the slightest change of his answer prompted a new round of questioning. They attempted to associate him with other Palestinians with the same or similar names. He remains afraid of going back to Israel because he fears Israeli authorities might decide to bar him entry if he tries to visit his family graves in Jaffa or any Arab Israeli friends there.
DOI: 2/18/2009 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport
On February 18th, 2009, an American of Palestinian descent sought to visit Bethlehem to attend his brother’s engagement party. After arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, he was pulled out of line and the Visa Officer told him to wait in a room to get clearance, which shouldn’t take more than half an hour. 8 hours later, an official with the Ministry of the Interior informed him that his Visa was denied and he was not welcome in the State of Israel. He was then taken to a nearby detention center for the night before being forced to purchase another ticket on short notice back to the United States.
Middle East Analyst, Washington, DC
In 2009, an Arab American analyst was consulting for the UN in Jerusalem and was issued a 6-month multiple entry service visa by the Israeli Embassy in Jordan to conduct her work according to bi-lateral protocol between the UN and the GOI. Unwittingly, she left Israel for a weekend to lecture at Oxford University. Upon her return to Ben Gurion airport, after presenting her passport at the immigration booth, she was ushered to the Ministry of Interior’s office in the back of the arrivals hall. An officer promptly cancelled her visa, and informed her that she would be returned to London on the next flight out.
“I was then stripped of all of my personal belongings, including my cell phone, and jacket, and taken to the plane via police escort. My personal belongings and luggage were flown out separately.
“I was not given the opportunity to call my employer or a lawyer before being deported. After 4 months of repeated inquiries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interior by the UN and the U.S. consulate, and a Demarche from the State Department, I was finally informed that I was banned from entering Israel for 5 years on grounds that I was an “immigration risk” due to an earlier period when I had lived and worked in the West Bank. No security allegations were raised nor was the explanation elaborated at the time.”
Unsatisfied, she hired an Israeli lawyer and petitioned the Ministry of Interior. Eighteen months later, a judge hearing her case issued an opinion rejecting the Ministry’s allegations that she was in violation of Israeli rules and ordered that she be given a hearing before the Ministry of Interior in light of his opinion. Following the hearing the Ministry lifted the ban.
DOI: 11/19/2007 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv
On November, 19th, 2007, an American citizen landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in midafternoon. Upon arrival, his passport and mobile phones were taken from him, and he was led to a room upstairs for six hours of interrogation, baggage searches, and strip-searches. He was not permitted to call any of the people he was meeting in Israel, or the embassy during his hours of interrogation and detention and was constantly told that such treatment was ‘routine.’ Just after 12:00 midnight, however, Israeli authorities finally returned with his stuff and he was permitted entry into Israel.
Miriam Mohammed Banaszak
Los Angeles, CA
DOI: 8/7/2007 – Location: Taba Border Crossing
On August 7th, 2007, a U.S. Citizen of Palestinian heritage was vacationing in Egypt with her American husband and four American friends. They hoped to spend some time sightseeing in Jerusalem, however when they arrive at the Passport Office at the Taba Border crossing, she was singled out of her entire group due to her Palestinian heritage and strip-searched, then detained and interrogated for more than 6 hours. When her Husband inquired as to her whereabouts, he was told to sit down and be quiet. She was asked: Why are you a Palestinian American? Do you know that there is no such thing as a Palestinian? Is Ramallah in Israel? What terror organization are you with? Are you going to pray at Aqsa Mosque? Why do you hate Israel?
Finally, after a humiliating ordeal, she was released back into the waiting room where she was the only one of her group whose Visa was rejected and she was denied entry to Israel. When asked why only she had been denied out of her group, the Passport Control Supervisor, Lilich Kilat, shouted, “She knows why she was denied.”
After returning to Cairo, she spent two days filing an official complaint with the US Embassy about the harassment and unfair treatment. She signed a notary, as well as a release waiver allowing her elected official to review the case.
Back in Los Angeles, she sent letters to the State Department, and her entire Congressional delegation asking for assistance, explain her experience, and signing release waivers for her affidavit. However, the State Department never got back to her, Senators Boxer and Feinstein took several weeks to send a letter saying they had no authority to assist her in Israel, and her congresswoman Jane Harman said she inquired as to her denial and treatment but was told by Richard Beer (Consul General) that the Israeli Government had reviewed her case and came to the conclusion that normal protocol had been taken at the Taba Crossing with no evidence of mistreatment. Her denial would remain in effect until December 31st, 2012, and she has heard from neither the US Embassy in Tel Aviv nor any state officials since.
Activist, Cambridge, MA
An American citizen involved in activism with the Palestinian solidarity movement was detained at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in November 2007 and interrogated and strip-searched. He was kept waiting and held incommunicado for six hours.
“I was not permitted to call the people I was to meet in Israel. Every piece of luggage and everything in them were opened and searched.
“Despite my explaining that I am diabetic, was extremely upset and had not eaten for hours only one soldier seemed concerned and finally gave me a glass of water and a couple of crackers. At different times I was told that this was just ‘routine’ and I’d be on my way soon [but later] led to believe that I might be refused entry. Finally, around midnight my passport, phones and luggage were returned and I was permitted to leave the airport.”
Georgetown Graduate Student, Arlington, VA
An Iranian-American graduate student at Georgetown University was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport in February 2006. The purpose of her trip was to visit religious sites in Jerusalem in addition to meeting with human rights activists working in Israel and the occupied territories. Upon her return to Washington, DC, her intent was to reveal the findings of her trip in a briefing sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. At Ben Gurion Airport, after inquiring and confirming that she was Muslim, Israeli authorities interrogated her for more than 8 hours and detained her for a total of 26 hours. She was maintained in an airport detention center until her flight the following morning to Washington, DC. She was strip searched and her phone, camera, and belongings were confiscated and not returned until her flight the following morning. During the time of the incident, she still maintained a Top Secret Security Clearance in the U.S., having left a post at the DoS less than a year leading to the trip to Israel. She was subsequently told by Israeli authorities that she was denied entry and banned from Israel for ten years.
67-year-old Retired Journalist and Activist, Berkeley, CA
An activist from Berkley who is of Jewish background traveled to Israel in 2006. Since becoming involved with the International Solidarity Movement in 2002 and writing about Palestine, he has faced increasing levels of harassment at the Israeli border. After a traumatic experience in 2002, he has avoided entering through Ben Gurion Airport and instead travels to Israel via the Amman and the Allenby/King Hussein Al-Karameh Bridge. Every time he arrives at the border, security takes him to a back room, questions him, strip searches him, and searches his suitcase for five hours at a time. This has happened so frequently that the Israeli authorities recognize him. Last time when the contents of his suitcase were being thrown around by one of the guards, he asked what purpose does that serve? The Israeli guard smirked and said "Security - you might be carrying explosives!" The retired journalist then replied, "If I wanted to bring in explosives, I certainly wouldn't put them in my suitcase, after all my experience with your searches."
New York City
DOI: 6/4/2004 – Location: Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv
A US citizen, who first traveled successfully to Israel and Palestine in 2003, had signed up for an Arabic-immersion course in Bethlehem. When she landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, she was immediately detained and questioned for several hours by border authorities. Finally, she was told that she would be deported. Having spent a great deal of money to travel, she did not want to be deported without a hearing. She was told that she would be taken to a hotel while this situation got sorted. Instead, she was taken to a detention center and held for nearly 6 weeks. When she was finally allowed to speak to the US Embassy days after her detention, the Embassy told her they would fax a list of attorney’s but it turned out the list was so outdated that most of the numbers were disconnected. Luckily, Bethlehem University where she was to take classes, helped find her an attorney.
She endured 3 court hearings, entirely in Hebrew with no English translator provided or permitted. No embassy personnel ever came for support. In the last hearing, a security official petitioned the judge to clear that courtroom so that he could present “secret evidence” to the judge. The entire court was cleared and when she and the rest of the court returned, the Judge ruled that she was to be deported immediately. “They did no advocacy at all for me” she says recalling the event.
Her calls to the US Consulate in Jerusalem and the US Embassy in Tel Aviv were unproductive, her calls and emails to her Congressman led to a generic form letter about US – Israeli relations, and the Department of State contacts page never responded to her inquiries.
12-year-old girl, Fairfax, VA
An American citizen of Palestinian descent traveled with her mother and brother to Bethlehem and Jerusalem in 2002 when she was 12 years old. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, her family was held up in customs while guards inspected their bags and questioned them. She was separated from her mother and brother and taken to an interrogation room with her American passport on hand. For several hours, Israeli authorities repeatedly asked her questions including: “What’s your religion? Why are you here? What’s your father’s and grandfather's name? Do you have bombs with you? Are you a suicide bomber?” They also asked her where she was from several times, to which she replied "America." The Israeli soldier responded: “Not here you’re not.” Her mother told the Israeli police that she would contact the U.S. State Department about her experience. One soldier responded saying "They are no help for you." "We do this to you so you never try to come to Israel again…Go before I change my decision."
Businessman and Activist, El Cerrito, CA
A U.S. citizen and International Solidarity activist going to work with NGO’s in the West Bank was detained at Ben Gurion Airport and scheduled to be deported. Deportation was suspended when he hired a lawyer. He was detained for two weeks and threatened with torture the first night in detention because of his refusal to leave the country without a hearing. His attorney refuted the prosecutor’s allegations, but the prosecutor claimed he could be barred from the country based on “secret evidence.” He has since been banned and not permitted to return to Israel.
U.S. Citizen, Grand Blanc, MI
A U.S. citizen of Palestinian-American heritage was traveling with her two children while she was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Upon arrival in Ben Gurion, the Israeli soldiers on duty detained the family for hours before questioning. The officer asked her where she was born, who her parents were, and where her Palestinian identity card and passport were. The officer also asked if she knew she was Palestinian and that she cannot enter Israel through this airport. She responded that she was a Palestinian-born American; however they told her that she is considered to be Palestinian in the State of Israel regardless of her American citizenship. The officers informed her that she must go back to the United States. The officers also told her that her children would be allowed to pass through without her. She decided that she would fly into Amman and cross from there if the Israelis allowed her to buy a ticket. She was escorted to the back alleys of the airport and instructed to go into a small private room with a female soldier to get strip searched. The soldier patted her body from head to toe, used a security wand, and asked her to take her clothes off. She was then escorted to a police car and taken to a detention facility awaiting her flight. After getting escorted back to the airport by three police officers, she was put on a plane to Jordan. She headed to “El Jiser,” the land border at the Elenby Bridge between Jordan and Israel. At the Israeli border, one of the security agents noticed her American passport and asked where her Palestinian travel documents were. She explained that she did not have any, and rather has been traveling through Ben Gurion Airport the past years. She also told the officer that she left Palestine before the Palestinian Authority was in place and since then had traveled through all the proper Israeli channels. The security agent informed her that she could not cross through that border without proper documentation.
Because she became weak physically due to lack of food, one of the Israeli security guards reopened her file and told her he would allow her to cross into Israel for humanitarian reasons. When she was reunited with her sister Abby, who is also an American citizen, Abby informed her about the several phone calls she made to both the American Consulate in Jerusalem and the U.S. inquiring about her whereabouts. Her husband also contacted a number of places including her local Congressman's office, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. They all received the same answer which was that nothing could be done on her behalf since the U.S. Embassy could not intervene in Israeli policies. Although she was an American citizen, in the State of Israel, she was not considered to be one and therefore they could not intervene on her behalf.
Kristian Davis Bailey
Activist and Writer
DOI: 12/2015 – Location: Allenby Bridge Crossing