WASHINTON (Jul. 14)
The State Department expressed concern Monday about several complaints received from Palestinian–Americans and U.S. Blacks who say they were denied entry to Israel or had their passport confiscated while trying to enter.
“We’ve raised the issue with the government of Israel…stressing that all American citizens are entitled to equal treatment under the laws of foreign countries and that we oppose any discrimination against any of our citizens on the basis of race, religion or ethnic background,” said State Department spokesman Charles Redman.
Redman was responding to a New York Times article which reported Monday that the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Consulate in Jerusalem are urging the State Department to issue a travel advisory warning Arab-Americans and Black Americans that they may encounter harassment in trying to enter Israel.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) here reports that 30 American–Palestinians were turned away this summer and another 50 had their passports revoked. Most of these individuals were traveling to Israel to visit parents in the occupied territories.
ACCUSED OF HARASSMENT
The ADC also reported cases of Israeli officials demanding that Palestinian-Americans post bond before they enter the country, in some cases as high as $100,000.
“It’s a much bigger problem than I anticipated,” said ADC president Abdeen Jabara, who recently returned from trip to the West Bank to investigate the problem.
“It’s a selective form of harassment,” added an ADC spokesman. “There seems to be an effort to chill the American-Palestinian community and to discourage them from going.”
Nawal Hamad, a resident of Arlington, Va., born in the West Bank, said that she flew to Israel with her four children last month to visit her parents. But when she arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, she said, she and her family were taken into custody by Israeli security officials, held for several hours without explanation and later forced to board a plane back to New York.
“I was treated like garbage,” Hamad, a bank office manager, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She said she and her children were told they were not welcome in Israel.
Hamad said she was recently informed that she may visit Israel if she signs an affidavit testifying that she will not extend the stay provided by her visa. But she said she has not been given any financial restitution for the cost of the last trip and is unsure she can afford another ticket. Asher Naim, Minister of Information at the Israel Embassy here, said that cases like that of Hamad were not a result of Israeli discrimination against Palestinian-Americans.
“These are individuals who we have reason to believe form a security problem and their intentions are not just to visit and leave Israel, but they have other agendas,” Naim said. “This is a prerogative of any government to accept or reject anyone who comes to its shores.”
Naim said Black Americans have been turned away because they are suspected of belonging to the Black Hebrew Israelites. In 1972, Black Hebrews were ruled not to be Jews and so did not fall under the Law of Return.
Naim said the Israeli government is investigating the case of Marvin Vaughn, a Black resident of Cincinati who was deported at the airport along with Hamad, and who the ADC maintains was simply a tourist. Vaughn was acting peculiarly when he left the plane by declaring that he was the Messiah, Naim said, and might have been mistaken for a Black Hebrew.
American citizens who have doubts about being allowed to visit Israel can contact the Israeli Consulate. “We would be happy to give them the information,” Naim said.