An American citizen who teaches English in Ramallah was denied entry to Israel at Ben-Gurion International Airport Tuesday, even though she has a valid one-year multiple-entrance visa.
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The Shin Bet security service said in a statement she was turned her away for refusing to cooperate under questioning on security issues.
Nour Joudah, 25, is the daughter of Palestinians who became naturalized citizens of the United States. Her father, a retired history professor, was born in Ashdod. She has visited the country several times, both with her parents and without them. She teaches full-time at the West Bank City of Ramallah's Friends School, which is run by the Quakers (Friends United Meeting), a Christian religious order headquartered in Indiana.
In August 2012, Joudah received a three-month entrance visa after reporting the purpose of her arrival – to teach and live in Ramallah. In September, she received a visa from the Interior Ministry that allowed her multiple entrances and exits from the country for a year. Her request for the visa was submitted through USAID, the American international aid agency.
Joudah went to Amman for Christmas, and when she returned in early January, she was refused entry at the Allenby Crossing. When inquiries were made on her behalf by attorney Emily Schaeffer, the Border Crossing Administration representative said the decision was made for security reasons, but did not elaborate.
While Schaeffer was preparing an appeal, Joudah contacted U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents the district of Texas where Joudah's parents live. Jackson Lee contacted the Israeli Embassy in Washington, which suggested that Joudah try to re-enter through Ben-Gurion airport to give the authorities a chance to reconsider their position.
After landing at the airport on Monday, she was questioned twice, once for half an hour and once for 20 minutes, and then held in custody for several more hours. On Monday evening, she was told that she was being refused entry and would be put on a plane back to Amman Tuesday morning.
Joudah told Haaretz that at the airport, investigators from the Shin Bet Security Service asked her many questions they would have known the answers to since they were covered in her request for the year-long visa and during her questioning at Allenby, including the names of her relatives in the country, the reason she was coming and previous places she had taught.
She was also asked if she knew any prisoners, a question she had not answered previously. When she said she did not, the Shin Bet members asked her whether she knew anyone who had a relative in prison. She answered that it was possible but that she does not ask everyone she meets whether they have a relative in prison.
They asked her if she had written any articles while she was here. She answered that she had, but a simple Google search, she told Haaretz, would have turned up the two articles she had written for a local American paper.
According to Joudah, toward the end of her questioning, she was asked to provide information about people she had met in Ramallah between August and December 2012. She replied that she does not record details about every person she meets and and therefore could not give information about all her friends and acquaintances.
Joudah noted that a USAID representative, who had helped coordinate her visa, came from Tel Aviv to the airport and sat with her for several hours. She said he was also questioned.
In response to a request for comment, the Shin Bet said in a statement, "An American citizen whose family comes from the Gaza Strip was refused entry on Jan. 5 after failing to cooperate under questioning on security-related matters. After it was made clear to all involved that if she cooperated her entry would be considered, she returned on Feb. 25 for additional questioning. On this occasion too she refused to cooperate to the extent required, and her entry was refused."
On Monday, Schaeffer submitted an urgent appeal to cancel the denial of entry or to at least allow Joudah to respond to whatever claims were being made against her. But Central District Court Judge Avraham Yaakov denied the petition, saying the administrative procedures had not yet been fully utilized. Schaeffer said her appeal to the Interior Ministry against the denial of entry had been submitted more than two weeks ago and that although the ministry had promised a preliminary answer by Feb. 24, this promise was not kept.