Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Israel's treatment of Arab-American citizens . . . and our government's acquiescence

Dr. James Zogby, author of Arab Voices and leading founder of both the Arab American Institute and the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, lectures and writes on Middle East Affairs.   He recently wrote an open letter to Sec. of State John Kerry about Israel's  long-standing practice of barring entry to American citizens of Arab descent.

Zogby describes the typical experience by focusing on what happened recently to two different American citizens on long-planned trips to visit relatives in Palestine.   George, 70, had not visited relatives there for over two decades;  Habib, 62, and his sons were going to a family wedding in the West Bank.
"On arrival in Israel . . . they were detained for long hours, subjected to abusive interrogations, insulted by Israeli security personnel, and finally denied entry and forced to purchase, at their own expense, return tickets back to the United States.   

[In the two cases] ". . . there were significant common elements with the most disturbing being the reason they were denied entry. Because both men were of Palestinian descent, the Israelis would not honor their US passports as travel documents or recognize that they were American citizens . . Both were told that they needed to acquire Palestinian IDs and that, as Palestinians, they could only enter through Jordan . . .   

"What happened . . . were not the actions of a few rogue agents. For more than three decades, we have recorded and submitted to the State Department hundreds of instances where Arab Americans, upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport have been subjected to such treatment. . . . "
Zobgy then points out that, although the State Department does not condone Israel's behavior with regard to entry of American citizens of Arab descent, they wrote in response to a complaint from the daughter of one of these men that:  "Unfortunately, the US government cannot assist US citizens in gaining entry into Israel" but they should instead contact the Israeli embassy for assistance.   

Our State Department's "Travel Advisory" states that, regardless of whether they hold US citizenship, Israeli authorities will treat anyone whose parents or grandparents were born or lived in the West Bank or Gaza as Palestinians and not as Americans.   Zogby's letter continues: 
"Israel, it appears, has a peculiar view of American citizenship. If you are Jewish, you are in a special class in that you can become an Israeli citizen. If you are an American of any non-Arab ethnicity, you are welcome to visit. But if you are an American of Arab descent and, in particular, of Palestinian descent, then you are not seen as an American and are not welcome. 

"It is upsetting that both the Department of State "Travel Advisory" and the Consul's letter acknowledge Israel's disregard for our citizenship rights and claim to be powerless to hold them accountable for their actions. This acquiescence allows Israel to act with impunity. It also makes our government appear to be complicit in Israel's behavior. . . .  

"I am, therefore, writing to you, Secretary Kerry, urging you to insist that the Israeli government fully live up to its treaty obligations to treat all Americans equally without regard to their religion or national origin."
*   *   *
The Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians is one reprehensible matter.   But our own government's acquiescence and helplessness is another, and I find it very disturbing.

Israel's legitimate right to protect itself from attack, and the moral debt the world owes to the Jewish people, are increasingly being over-shadowed in world opinion by Israel's own inhumane treatment of the Palestinians.    This criticism is not anti-Semitic prejudice;  it is the result of the Israeli government's own behavior toward the Palestinians.


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