Posted by on March 01, 2013 in Blog

Last fall, Nour Joudah, a 25-year-old Palestinian American, finished her Master’s program at Georgetown University and moved to the West Bank to teach at the Friends School in Ramallah. At the end of her first semester, she traveled to Jordan for a 10-day vacation to visit some friends in the region. When she tried to return to Ramallah in January, she was denied re-entry, despite her USAID-approved one-year multiple-entry visa.

Nour has been fighting ever since to return to Palestine. For the past two months, she has worked with lawyers, activists, and the media to determine the cause of her denial. Her 90 students, meanwhile, have had to make do without their teacher.

Finally, with the help of some congressional offices and even the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, Nour tried once again to enter the country, this time through the Tel Aviv airport. She was accompanied by members of the press, as well as a representative of USAID, which has given millions in aid to the Friends School. Despite the added attention, she was once again denied entry.

After spending the day in a detention center, Nour was returned to Amman, where she now has to face the reality that she won’t be returning to her students this semester. Here’s an excerpt from the letter she wrote them on Tuesday:

It breaks my heart that I have to tell you that I won't be back this semester to finish teaching you, or be back to Palestine - at least not any time soon.

I was hoping to see you all in person today, but that hope has been taken away.

If you're angry, that's ok. Be angry. But don't take that anger out on your teachers or your studies. It's not their fault. Channel that anger or sadness or frustration into something productive. If you want to do something for me, work on your English. Work on expressing yourself beautifully in your writing, so one day you can tell the world what you know and help the people around you when you do.

Don't forget that there are millions of Palestinians that would give up everything to be in your position - to even have a day in the homeland. Even if it doesn't always feel like it because of our struggles living under occupation, remember you being in Palestine is a right that others are still fighting for. It's your job to use the potential that I know all of you have to find a way to use your lives to help bring all of us Palestinians around the world together.

Nour’s case provides a clear example of the irrationality of the Israeli border policy, and the wide-ranging effects of occupation politics. She was already present in the country, teaching English at a highly-respected high school. Had she not left on vacation, she would likely still be teaching there today. Her visa specifically stipulates the ability to leave and return, and she had been previously vetted by both the Israeli authorities and the US government. But the fear engendered at the Israeli borders and the boundless suspicion of all Palestinian people has created an untenable situation that adversely impacts Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Stories like this are hardly new. Last year we wrote about the similar ordeal of Sandra Tamari, who was deported for refusing to let border officials access her personal email account.

AAI has met with the State Department on a number of occasions about the treatment of American citizens at Israel’s borders, where tens of thousands of Arab Americans have faced harassment, denigration, and denial of entry for the most spurious of reasons.

Despite Israel’s clear violation of its treaty obligations with the US, and the Israeli government’s push for a waiver to enable Israeli citizens to enter the US without a visa, Washington has done remarkably little to protect the rights of its own citizens at the Israeli border. Our repeated requests for stronger condemnation of Arab American harassment, or at least for access to the total number of documented cases, have been repeatedly denied.

Meanwhile, Nour continues to fight the Israeli government’s decision from Jordan. “My number one priority is returning to my students,” she said in a letter to the Friends School community.

You can contribute to her legal fund by purchasing some of the photos she’s taken in Palestine.

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