Posted by Sabrin Qadi on September 03, 2015 in Blog

The denial of entry to Israel for American citizens of Arab descent, especially Palestinian, is a practice that has existed for several decades, but a growing collection of narratives around this issue is in the spotlight lately. One of the most recent was that of the prominent Palestinian American writer Susan Abulhawa. She is the author of the international bestseller novel, Mornings in Jenin (2010), and her most recent The Blue Between Sky and Water (2015).

Susan was born in Kuwait in 1970; her parents were Palestinian refugees of the 1967 war. Susan was sent to live with family members in the United States, Kuwait, and Jordan, sent back and forth from relative to relative, until she was 10 years old where she was taken to Jerusalem and then ultimately ended up in an orphanage. Finally, she found the embrace of a family who took her in at the age of 13 in Charlotte, North Carolina. She went on to receive her undergraduate studies in biology and completed her Master’s degree in neuroscience. Susan became a writer, penning novels and articles published widely in the U.S. and abroad. From novels and poetry, to the press—Susan has reached many with her writing.

She has dedicated her life to political and social activism for Palestinians who continue to live under occupation. She stands her ground on opposing Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas, believes in the efficiency of promoting Palestinian rights and rallying against Israeli policies through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and is passionate about building playgrounds for children in the Palestinian territories.

In late July, Susan made leisure plans to visit Palestine, explore new sites, build two more playgrounds, and spend time with family and friends; nothing more, nothing less. Upon her arrival to the Allenby Bridge, a crossing that connects the Jordan River to the West Bank operated by the Israeli Airports Authority, she was denied entry after seven hours of being detained and six different interrogations. Highlights of the grilling interview were posted on her Facebook Fan page:

Interrogator: where are you staying in Jerusalem?
Susan: my cousin
Interrogator: what is his name?
Susan: (gave his name)
Interrogator: other cousins.
Susan: you want the names of all my cousins?
Interrogator: yes
Susan: there are hundreds of them. It's a big family. I don't get what you're asking.
Interrogator: (slams her hand down on desk) who are you staying with? Why you not answer the questions?
Susan: I'm answering all your questions
Interrogator: you are not answering how I like
Susan: I can't read your mind and I don't care what you like. I'm answering your questions. 
Interrogator: you don't care? Ok. Get out. I will show you.

Susan’s denial of entry was based on “noncooperation.” She appealed her denial to the U.S. embassy in Jordan where she was not allowed to enter and received no assistance for her complaint. It turns out this is an ongoing routine for American citizens of Palestinian origin who are regularly humiliated upon entry to Israel and are offered no recourse by U.S. authorities.

If an American citizen of Arab descent wants the closest chance of admittance to Israel, they know very well, as the State Department travel advisory indicates, to go through the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. It may take an actual miracle to have an American of Palestinian descent enter through Ben Gurion Airport. Susan’s experience is certainly not isolated. Recently George Khoury and Habib Joudeh, both U.S. citizens of Arab descent were similarly denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport.

 Dr. James Zogby puts it best in his recent article on the treatment of American citizens of Palestinian decent when traveling to Israel:

“Israel, it appears, has a peculiar view of American citizenship. If you are Jewish, you are in a special class in that you can become an Israeli citizen. If you are an American of any non-Arab ethnicity, you are welcome to visit. But if you are an American of Arab descent and, in particular, of Palestinian descent, then you are not seen as an American and are not welcome.”

Susan is just one of many American citizens of Palestinian heritage denied entry into Israel. By the end, Susan was left with nothing but a sentiment so painful that only she could express so clearly: “The truth is that I just wanted to cry. A desperate something from my gut. They give us so much to cry over. All the time. So I just screamed at them. Thieves, occupiers I called them. You wish you had the same roots as I do, I screamed. You should be the one to leave, not me. I'm a daughter of this land. Then they took me to my luggage and sent me in the bus. I regret walking and not making them carry me.”

Sabrin Qadi was an intern with the Arab American Institute