Author : Steve Tamari | Readings : 73 | Date : 2012-07-11
My wife, Sandra -- a terrorist and a security threat to Israel?
Needless to say, I was surprised when I heard this was the reason Israeli officials gave when they deported her from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport in May.
She is the mother of two young children; a devoted member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); a committed pacifist; and a passionate believer in non-violence. She happens to be an American of Palestinian origin. But a terrorist?
Even more surprising was the public and media interest in Israel's harassment and deportation of Palestinians, including Palestinian-Americans: Sandra was interviewed by national and international TV and radio stations, an AP story was picked up dozens of news outlets, and a petition drive protesting the US Embassy's inaction garnered over 17,000 signatures in a little over a week.
The public outcry came as more of a surprise than the deportation itself because such treatment has been part and parcel of the Palestinian experience for at least three generations.
Our story starts with the expulsion of my father and his family from their native Jaffa in 1948. My father-in-law, from the West Bank town of Ramallah, happened to be in the US during the 1967 War. Since he was not present when Israel conducted a census immediately following its occupation of the West Bank, he lost his residency status in his own country. Today he can only return for brief periods on a tourist visa.
During the 1970s, two close relatives fared even worse. Israeli soldiers forcibly removed one from his home, separated him from his family, and deposited him on the Lebanese side of the border. He spent the next 17 years in exile.
Another wanted to introduce his two young children to their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. At the Allenby Bridge crossing separating Jordan from the West Bank, he was summarily arrested, hooded, and held incommunicado for three days before his family knew of his whereabouts.
In 1983, I spent an hour in the back of an “interrogation van” on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport where, almost 30 years later, my wife was accused of being a terrorist.
Every Palestinian carries similar stories -- in most cases, they are much more dire.
Sandra and I are privileged partly because we carry US passports. At least we have the hope of getting in. That is more than can be said for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria and even Jordan, where most of the 4 million UN-registered Palestinian refugees reside.
But as my wife’s situation made clear, Palestinian-Americans don’t fare as well as Americans who are not of Palestinian origin. My wife spent eight hours under interrogation and was put in a cell before being thrust on a plane back to the US. She knew her fate was sealed when she refused to turn over the password to her private email account.
In the meantime, she was able to contact a US embassy official whose first question was “Are you Jewish?” in effect mimicking the racial and religious profiling she was undergoing at the hands of Israeli security officials.
When she told him she is of Palestinian origin with family in the West Bank, the official told her there was nothing he could do to help and that things would only get worse if he interceded on her behalf. At this point it was hard to tell between Israeli questions and those of the US embassy.
Unfortunately, the failure of US officials to offer any concrete assistance to American citizens of Palestinian origin is not new. Arab-American organizations have been documenting such cases for at least 30 years and have met repeatedly with State Department officials without success.
This, despite the fact that such treatment violates the 1954 US-Israel Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Treaty, which states: “Nationals of either Party within the territories of the other Party shall be free from unlawful molestations of every kind, and shall receive the most constant protection and security, in no case less than that required by international law.”
Sandra’s experience and the outcry that followed made this an opportune moment to act. With assistance from various activist networks, our petition drive secured enough support within a short time to get us an audience with State Department officials on June 26.
We had five specific requests for the State Department officials: to treat Palestinian-Americans in Israel as they would any other US citizen; to raise this issue with Israeli counterparts; to examine the legality of this all-too-common scenario in light of the aforementioned 1954 Treaty; and to inquire whether US embassy or consular officials have any records related to the numbers of Palestinian-Americans denied entry to Israel and areas under its control.
We also petitioned the State Department to protest Israeli plans to destroy the Palestinian village of Susiya, the most recent example of 65 years of Israeli whole-scale ethnic cleansing.
Our exchange with the State Department demonstrated once again our government’s inability to guarantee basic assistance to Palestinian-Americans at Israeli ports of entry.
The officials expressed sympathy, and acknowledged that US officials have repeatedly raised such concerns with their Israeli Foreign Ministry counterparts to no avail. But they could offer little more than a verbal promise to relate our concerns to higher-ups.
I am not holding my breath. The State Department has a 30-year record of offering no effective assistance to its citizens in this regard. Why should we expect anything different this time around?
That said, Sandra’s case solidified my optimism in the citizenry’s basic decency and in the power of grassroots organizing and hard-nosed questioning.
Sandra’s treatment at Ben Gurion Airport is nothing new, but the public outcry is. The State Department may not acquiesce to our demands this time, but we will continue to ask questions and make our voices heard -- with the backing of thousands of supporters.
Steve Tamari's wife Sandra was refused entry at Israel's Ben Gurion airport in May and deported.