Israel’s Oppressive Travel Ban Isn’t New

By Samara L.

Before the recent ban of boycott supporters, Israel denied me entry to allegedly prevent “illegal immigration.” I am American, Jewish, and pro-Palestine. This ban is the legalization of common discriminatory practices.

“We will ban you from Israel for 10 years if you don’t tell us the real reason you want to enter,” an Israeli border agent angrily snapped at me.

I naively thought it would be quick at customs considering I’m American, Jewish, had been previously admitted, and was entering for a job with an education organization. I’d already told them the simple truth numerous times, but they refused to listen.

Instead, my 2016 new year’s bash was a four-hour hostile interrogation. A dramatic literary analysis of every petition I’ve ever signed, blog I’ve ever written, organization I’ve ever “liked” on Facebook, Israeli number and photo saved in my phone. My champagne toast was them spinning everything I love about myself into a security threat. My dance floor was an intricate sidestep of their attempts to catch me in a web of lies. My midnight kiss was hot tears escaping my eyes as question after violating question knocked the wind out of me.

It turned out I had signed a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) petition years ago. I had no recollection, but Google never forgets. Unlike many of my liberal peers, as a non-Zionist I’ve never had qualms about supporting the right to boycott as a vital tool of resistance and political change. In my opinion, it’s morally hypocritical to be cool with boycotts of Trump businesses because of racism and misogyny, South Carolina because of anti-LGBTQ laws, South Africa because of apartheid, Montgomery because of bus segregation, but to condemn BDS just because it targets our “homeland.”

It turned out there’s a photo of me on social media demonstrating, which made me a troublemaker. It turned out I have a Facebook friend in Gaza who I’ve never met, which made me suspicious. It turned out most of my 972 contacts are Palestinian, which made me a traitor. It turned out my years of interfaith community organizing, my belief in both Judaism and Islam, made me untrustworthy. It turned out they didn’t care about my degrees, my career, my Jewish education, my family history. I was told with a sneer, “it doesn’t matter who you are, just what you’re planning.”

I pleaded to the female agent with tears streaming down my face, “I’m not a bad person, I just believe in peace and equality for all.” It was an embarrassing last ditch effort to change her mind – I knew they were laughing at me as soon as I left the room. My passport was stamped with a big red “Entry Denied,” ironically under a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote printed in my U.S. passport and in many of yours. I was forced to sign a document verifying that I was denied to prevent “illegal immigration,” a blatant lie considering immigration was never mentioned during my interrogation. It was simply a way to legally deny me because I didn’t have a work permit yet.

I gratefully accepted hot tea and a cigarette from the kind bus driver who took me back across the border. We chatted in broken Arabic and English. I learned that my denial is not unusual, and it’s been happening more and more lately. I nursed my wounded pride and counted my blessings – I wasn’t strip searched, arrested, physically injured, detained overnight, or permanently banned from the place I love like so many Palestinians are on a daily basis.

So is this the kind of person I’ve become, I thought? Someone who begs in vain for an authoritarian gatekeeper to see me as a little more human? My God, what have we all become?

As an American Jew who was already denied entry to Israel before the Knesset’s recent ban of foreigners who call for boycotts of any Israeli institutions, including settlements, I’m appalled but not surprised. This ban is merely the legalization of common discriminatory practices.

Israel calls itself a democracy, but a true democracy wouldn’t need to pass laws against those who peacefully stand in opposition to its policies. This ban violates fundamental rights of free speech, freedom of movement as well as political dissent. It specifically targets those engaged in nonviolent civil resistance. It is part of the longtime systematic marginalization of those who dare challenge Israel’s authoritarian regime. The ban will further silence international peace activists, educators, students, and journalists, especially the Palestinian diaspora and leftist Jews, Zionist and non-Zionist alike.

It will undoubtedly exclude individuals such as myself who eat, sleep, and breathe for dreams of peace.

I and many of my peers wholeheartedly condemn this repressive legislation along with all violent and fascist practices of Israel denying freedom, safety, and justice to those standing against the occupation and the State. We will continue to organize in every possible way against the brutal and inhumane military, economic, political, and social control, exploitation and destruction of Palestinian communities.

Red denial stamps will never make us give up on resistance and liberation.

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