US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin)
Recently I became one of the many Arab-Americans denied entry to, deported and banned from Israel. My experience is part of a disturbing trend that, at the very least, should figure into the public debate about our country’s “special relationship” with Israel. Instead, the US Congress is considering a bill that would reward Israel for its discriminatory practices—not just against Palestinians but against US citizens.
My story began with an invitation from the Media in Conflicts Seminar, an Israel-sponsored conference on conflict reporting for young journalists. Instead of being welcomed to Israel and sent on my way, I was detained and interrogated for four hours and then informed that I was being deported and banned for ten years. I was denied the right to call my mother—much less the American Embassy—before being escorted by a Shin Bet officer to my plane. My luggage had been broken while it was being ransacked and covered in tags that said “Security.”
My “crime” was not cooperating with my interrogator, who demanded that I divulge information on all of my contacts in the West Bank. I refused, knowing that it is a Shin Bet ploy to tap Palestinian phone numbers.
Would I have been pulled aside for questioning in the first place if I were not Arab-American? Everyone I have spoken to—including human rights lawyers and researchers—finds my deportation story outrageous. But what is more outrageous is that Congress is considering codifying into law this very kind of Israeli discrimination against American citizens.
In March, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013. In addition to creating a special class of US ally reserved for Israel, the bill proposes adding Israel to the US visa waiver program—allowing Israeli citizens to visit the United States for up to three months without needing to obtain a visa in advance. While this deal is normally reciprocated, Israel’s agreement would include a special caveat that allows it to retain the right to deny entry to anyone who threatens Israel’s national security.
In other words, Israel would retain—with the explicit approval of the US government—its policy of systematically discriminating against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Americans.
If the overwhelmingly Arab demographic of the interrogations waiting room or the fact that even Palestinian citizens of Israel are taken aside for questioning at the border isn’t proof enough of Israel’s discriminatory border policies, even the US consulate has a travel advisory specifically for Arab and Muslim-American travelers. Its website reads: “U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin…may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may be denied entry.”