The Americans Who Aren't Allowed to Visit Israel

U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin are routinely humiliated upon entry to Israel, yet representatives of their country refuse to come to their aid.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Ben-Gurion Airport.
Ben-Gurion Airport. Credit: Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Susan Abulhawa is a successful American writer. Her first novel, “Mornings in Jenin,” was translated into 30 languages and was an international best seller. Her new book, “The Blue Between Sky and Water,” has already been sold for translation into 19 languages, even before publication in the United States next month. Life is smiling on the 45-year-old. There’s only one problem: Her home is in Pennsylvania, but her heart is in Palestine.

Her parents are Jerusalemites from the A-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem. They became refugees against their will in 1967, after being barred from returning to their home city. After they separated, their daughter went from place to place – from an orphanage in East Jerusalem to a foster family in South Carolina. A traumatic visit to Jenin after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 provided the inspiration for her first novel and her political involvement. Abulhawa established a nonprofit, to build playgrounds for children in the occupied territories and Lebanon, and has become an open supporter of the BDS movement. That is her crime.

Last week, she arrived at the Allenby Bridge crossing between Jordan and Israel, en route to see her family in Jerusalem, visit the playgrounds she has built and conduct interviews in honor of the publication of her latest novel. Her U.S. passport was in her pocket. After seven hours of waiting, and an exhausting and humiliating interrogation by six security officials, Abulhawa was expelled in disgrace – allegedly because she hadn’t cooperated with her interrogators.

They asked her invasive questions about her family and the objectives of her visit, until she eventually lost her cool. “You wish you had the same roots as I do,” she shouted. “You should be the one to leave, not me! I’m a daughter of this land.” Nor did she mince her words on Facebook: “Denied entry to my homeland by a bunch of fucking Zionist colonizers who didn’t think I was sufficiently differential. Livid,” she wrote.

The following day, she appealed to the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, in the hope of receiving assistance. The embassy staff didn’t allow her to enter and wouldn’t accept her complaint. It turns out this is business as usual for them. American citizens of Palestinian origin are routinely humiliated upon entry to Israel, and representatives of their country refuse to come to their defense. That, of course, is an issue for the United States to deal with: How is it that a country treats its citizens so rudely and humiliates those holding its passport – and forgives with such ease?

Susan Abulhawa, at the Oslo Book Festival, 2010.Credit: Wikimedia Commons / decltype

A week earlier, Jerusalem native Dr. George Khoury landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Khoury is a professor of languages with a doctorate in theology from Berkeley, a U.S. citizen who decided to travel with a priest, Father Bernard Poggi, on a pilgrimage and family visit. Khoury is 70 and hadn’t visited his homeland in 21 years.

He also thought his U.S. passport would grant him entry into Israel, and he too was mistaken. The security official at Ben-Gurion told him, “This is our Israel, this is for the Jews. No Palestinian should come to Israel.” Khoury tried to explain that he’s American, but there was nobody to talk to. The security official informed him he would be deported to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge. Later, other security officials told him he was being expelled to Italy, where he had departed from.

After a day in detention in appalling conditions, the elderly professor was taken to an aircraft in a police van. When he asked where he was being taken, the policeman replied, “Bogota.” Khoury was alarmed. “Aren’t you Carlos?” asked the policeman on the steps of the plane, on his way to Colombia. After the security forces discovered that George was not exactly Carlos, he was put on another plane.

Now Khoury sits angrily at home in San Francisco, and from there he described his tribulations. He also blames Israel and the United States. “They took something that was supposed to be a vacation, a reconnection with my homeland and old friends, and made it a nightmare from hell,” he wrote on the Mondoweiss website. And you feel a sense of shame in your heart.

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