Posted on March 17, 2009 in Press Releases

Letter Expresses Continued Concern Over Obstacles to Entry for American Citizens of Arab and Palestinian Descent

WASHINGTON – March 17, 2008 – The Arab American Institute (AAI) sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday expressing continued concern over the treatment of Americans attempting to legally enter the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) by the Government of Israel. The letter, signed by 29 organizations, states the signatories’ concern regarding the ongoing burdensome bureaucratic requirements, harassment, and humiliation that Americans of Arab, and particularly Palestinian, descent often face when trying to enter Israel or the oPt. Many Americans of Palestinian descent have deep ties and family connections to the region, ties that are in jeopardy because of these procedures.

The letter notes that this matter has been brought to the attention of the Department of State several times over the past thirty years. In spite of official measures promised by the Israeli government, “documented cases indicate that, in practice, procedures used to determine which Americans may enter remain discriminatory, abusive, and internationally unlawful.”

AAI and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) will hold a conference call for reporters on Wednesday, March 19 at 10:30 a.m. regarding the letter, the broader issues surrounding the difficulties our citizens face, and next steps to resolve this issue. Dr. James Zogby, President of AAI, and Kareem Shora, National Executive Director of ADC, will lead the teleconference discussion on Wednesday.

To join the conference call, please R.S.V.P. to Christina Zola, Director of Communications, or Andy Sabino, Public Affairs Coordinator, at 202-429-9210 by Tuesday, March 18 at 2 p.m. for information on how to participate in the teleconference.

Text of the letter to Secretary Rice:

March 14, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

We are writing to express our continued concern over the treatment by the Government of Israel towards American citizens when attempting to legally enter the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). This has been an issue for many decades now and is of special concern to Americans of Arab, and especially Palestinian, descent, many of whom have deep ties and family connections to those lands. The treatment of American citizens traveling to the oPt frequently involves burdensome bureaucratic requirements, if not outright harassment and humiliation, and indicates a pattern of discrimination and practices intended to deter visitors.

We have brought this matter to the attention of the Department of State several times, dating back at least thirty years. Past Administrations have expressed concern over this matter, but the efforts of our government have been ultimately ineffective. Today, the problem persists. Americans citizens continue to be categorized by their ethnicity or religion and are treated according to this discriminatory ranking system by a country officially, and eagerly, regarded as an ally.

In November 2006, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Maura Harty discussed this troubling matter with a group of legal advocates and community leaders, who subsequently submitted a formal complaint to the Israeli government. In December 2006, the Israeli Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (CoGaT) responded to this action by outlining new procedures for entry into the oPt, guaranteeing that denial of entry for American citizens would only be based on legitimate security concerns. A similar statement was then issued in March 2007 by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to third party missions. Despite these official measures, documented cases indicate that, in practice, procedures used to determine which Americans may enter remain discriminatory, abusive, and internationally unlawful.

Specifically, documented cases from the past eight months indicate that Israel is trying to circumvent these revised procedures, opting instead to issue short-term visas for one or two weeks—not the customary three months—rather than denying visas outright. Review of this practice reveals that arbitrary standards are applied and there is widespread institutional bias against Americans of Arab descent, and particularly those of Palestinian ancestry. We urge you to call upon the Israeli government to employ a uniform standard of criteria when reviewing applications for entry into the oPt that recognizes the rights of all Americans and does not subjectively discriminate against Americans of Arab descent.

Whatever else may be at stake, it is clear that this action puts the Government of Israel in violation of the 1951 Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Between the United States of America and Israel. Violated articles include particularly Article II, section 2; Article III, section 1; and Article XX in its entirety. (Article XXIII of the same Treaty makes clear that the oPt are covered under the terms of the Treaty.)

Madame Secretary, we insist that you use your good office to ensure that American citizens of Arab descent are treated fairly by the Government of Israel. As treaty obligations require, American citizens of all backgrounds traveling to Israel and the oPt are entitled to the same treatment that Israeli citizens receive when visiting our country. This is not a matter for negotiation, nor should it be seen as part of the broader issue of a Middle East peace process; this is about our right to be treated as fully protected American citizens.

We look forward to resuming our dialogue with your office and, therefore, respectfully request to meet before Friday, May 9, 2008. Please accept our thanks in advance for your time and attention to this matter.


Dr. James Zogby
Arab American Institute

Hon. George Salem, Esq.
Arab American Institute

And the Undersigned Organizations

Ahmed Saleh
Al Dala American Benevolence Association

Kareem Shora
National Executive Director
American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee
National and 19 Local Chapters:
(Austin, Baltimore, District of Columbia,
Greater Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Kentucky,
Los Angeles, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada,
New Orleans, New York, Orange County, San Diego,
Seattle, Tucson, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin)

Yacoub Zayed
American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine

Maher Abdelqader
American Friends of Palestine, New York

Mai Abdul-Rahman
Palestinian American Woman’s Association

Dr. Ahmed Jaber
Arab American Association, New York

Nasser Beydoun
American Arab Chamber of Commerce

Sherif Mahmoud Meleis
President of the Board
Arab American Family Support Center, New York

Dr. Aref Assaf
Arab American Forum

Wael Musafer
Arab American Muslim Federation, New York

Dr. George Cody
American Task Force on Lebanon

Dr. Ziad Asali
American Task Force on Palestine

Hilda Zahran Ishaq
Birzeit Society

Joe Chari
Cleveland American Middle Eastern

Ramzi Dalloo
Chaldean Democratic Caucus

Joseph T. Kassab
Executive Director
Chaldean Federation of America

Samiah Bahhur
El-Bireh Palestine Society

Ashraf Hegazy
Massachusetts Arab American Legislative Council

Dr. Bilal Ayoub
Maryland Arab American Committee

Jean AbiNader
Executive Director
Moroccan Trade and Investment Council

Hanna Hanania
Network of Arab-American Professionals

Sameer Tuffaha
Palestinian American Congress of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania

Johnny Khamis
Republican Arab American Congress

Metropolitan Philip Saliba
Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Naim Farhat
Syrian American Medical Society

Samar Assad
Executive Director
The Palestine Center

Nadeem Salem
Toledo Arab American Chamber of Commerce

Hassan Samrhouni
Washington Morocco Club


Janice Jacobs
Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Consular Affairs
U.S. Department of State

C. David Welch
Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Michele T. Bond
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Office of Overseas Citizens Services
U.S. Department of State

Michelle Bernier-Toth
Managing Director
Office of Overseas Citizens Services
U.S. Department of State

Thomas H. Goldberger
Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
U.S. Department of State