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'No Falasteen for you!' Shin Bet banned me from Israel for 10 years

‘My suspicious ethnic identity coupled with my criticisms of Israel were enough to get me banned from Israel and more importantly, barred from being able to tell stories from the West Bank.’

By Anna Lekas Miller

“Do you think we are some kind of joke? Do you think you can start over with us?”

The Shin Bet officer looks at me across his desk, his eyes seeming to pop through his glasses like I was some kind of insolent teenager cum social pariah.  I straightened my posture and tried to smile, although my eyes probably expressed more disgust than anything else.

It isn’t the first time I’ve been interrogated at Ben Gurion International Airport. The first time I flew into Israel was to volunteer and work as a freelance journalist in the West Bank. I was told by my potential colleagues to lie at the port of entry—as the Israeli Border Control is notorious for deporting anyone who claims that their purpose of visit is to see or do business in the West Bank.  I learned the hard way if you’re Arab-American or even look Palestinian—like me—you are held and interrogated until you reveal your true intentions.

Anna Lekas Miller (photo: courtesy)

However, this time the purpose of my visit was not to go to the West Bank—it was to attend a conference in Tel Aviv, Israel. The conference is the Media in Conflicts Seminar (MICS) sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center at Herziliya. I later learned that it is a project conceived and funded by StandWithUS, an Israel advocacy group, aimed at targeting foreign journalists to improve Israel’s image in the wake of bad press surrounding Operation Cast Lead.

I knew that there was potential for propaganda at the conference. It was conceived to better Israel’s image. I knew that attending was breaking the boycott of Israel, as the conference is funded by a group aligned with the Israeli government, thus going against Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. I knew that there were probably questions to be raised as to its funding and its agenda. However, the facilitators seemed fair and politically open-minded and I thought I could learn something—and definitely be challenged in a way that would ultimately strengthen my reporting. I thought it would be a way to better understand how the powers at play were at work in the arena of conflict reporting. I thought it would be a way to get more Israeli contacts who could help me in the future to get into the country. I thought it would be a way to better understand Israel—a country, like the US, whose government does not properly represent its people.

Selfishly, I also thought that attending the conference would be a way to get a visa—and head to the West Bank after the conference to see friends and do the reporting I wanted to do.

“Here,” I said. “I have a letter of invitation in Hebrew.”

“I don’t care about any of this!” he said, dramatically throwing the paper that I thought would be my ticket to a visa in the air until it fluttered to the ground. “How do I know that you are not here to go to Falasteen? To be with the Falasteeniyans?”

I was sent to another room to wait, and then called in by another Shin Bet officer.

“Now I know you are American and you have your rights and blah blah blah,” he said. “Well I have more.”

At least I knew where I stood.

“Now, I need you to give me all of your contacts in the West Bank.”

I refused—many of my friends and contacts in Palestine are activists, former political prisoners who have served as many as eight jail sentences some of which have been in administrative detention and solitary confinement. One wiretap from the Shin Bet in the wrong place at the wrong time would be enough to have them targeted for arrest, their homes raided, any opportunities thrown to the winds.

“Either you give them to me now or I will take them by force,” he said.

He proceeded to go through my phone and take down the contact information for any Arabic-sounding name—even if they lived in the United States. Luckily this was my American phone and not my Palestinian phone, and I had hidden any contacts that appeared in both with a non-Arabic sounding name.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re deporting you back to New York. You are banned from Israel for 10 years.”

Five Shin Bet officers escorted me to where my suitcase was, which they had ransacked and broken, then covered with security tags before I was allowed to leave the room, still with an escort. I was denied the right to a phone call and only found out I was being deported to Berlin (via Istanbul) instead of New York once I was on the plane.

On the nearly empty 4 a.m. flight to Istanbul, my passport still held at the front of the plane, I thought about how difficult it is going to be for me to see any of my Palestinian friends again. For most Palestinians living in the West Bank, leaving requires dozens of permits—which are often expensive and ultimately denied. Going abroad also requires a visa, rarely granted to Palestinians who do not carry a passport other than their hawiyeh, a Palestinian identification card.

As a reporter, I thought that my American passport and light-colored skin would be enough to get me through Ben Gurion’s airport security, and into Israel—where it would only be two short bus rides to the West Bank. But no—my appearance was enough to be pulled aside and interrogated, not trusted based on suspicion of being Palestinian alone and then Google-searched to reveal that I’m an outspoken journalist. It was not long before my suspicious ethnic identity coupled with my criticisms of Israel were enough to get me banned from Israel and more importantly, barred from being able to tell stories from the West Bank.

Anna Lekas Miller is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Before being banned from Israel, she lived and worked in the West Bank as a correspondent for Open Zion: The Daily Beast. Follow her antics on Twitter @agoodcuppa

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Lisa

      My guess is that background checks (including Google searches) were done on people who registered for the conference. Shin Bet was waiting for her to arrive at Ben Gurion & deported her to prevent her from reporting from the conference. “Democracy” at work.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        She was deported because she is an anti-Israel activist that would have made her way to the West Bank in order to make trouble with her friends some of who she proudly claims have served as many as eight sentences for anti-Israel actions. The conference was her excuse to get into the country to do the actual ‘work’ in the West Bank that she wanted to do.

        Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        This women stated quite plainly that she is an enemy of Israel.
        That was before mentioning that she is a ‘palestinian.
        All countries are entitled to refuse entry to enemy aliens.
        And the Israeli decision was not racist, as she had thought that her ‘light skinned appearance and non-Arab name’ would get her entry.
        The amount of Arab countries where Jews are not allowed to enter because they are Jews should make this person think.
        Highly unlikely though.
        Her hate of Israel is to apparent and deeply ingrained to think of anything positive about Israel.
        Not said, but implied; Israel must be destroyed.
        Israels’ security services did their job well

        Reply to Comment
      • Svej

        Uhm.. you do know that Baader-Meinhof is the name of the group (Baader-Meinhof group or Red Army Faction), right? The woman to whose picture you’re linking is Verena Becker, one of the members of that group. Andres Baader was male; and Ulrike Meinhof hardly looked like that girl.
        If you try to sound witty by making idiotic comparisons, please at least try to get it right, you might look like an idiot otherwise.

        Reply to Comment
        • JG

          Additional fun fact: Verena Becker was an agent of the German domestic secret service “Verfassungsschutz” and not a terrorist……

          Reply to Comment
    2. Googler

      Anna, I’m not supporting your deportation, but bylines like “* Anna Lekas Miller is a writer, student, and activist who has caused trouble in the streets” and writing editorials for BDSmovement.net might raise a few eyebrows among the Israeli security establishment.

      Reply to Comment
    3. jjj

      Funny you think that the conference would be full of “propaganda” whereas every bit of your stand, posture, is a an anti-israeli propaganda.
      Though I don’t like the SB deporting you – Israel should hear criticism, even harsh one.
      On the other hand, BDS is not criticism. It is anti-zionism and a part of a blood libel campaign wrapped up in a pseudo humanitarian and human right cause.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      Oh thank god there is someone in the airport that knows how to use Google in order to deport annoyances like you. You can join some of the ‘journalists’ at 972mag who reside in Canada or the US and still manage to make a major difference posting their hard-hitting up-to-the-minute on-the-ground reports about what gets posted to various Facebook groups.

      Reply to Comment
      • If this activity is all so pointless, why bother disdaining? Perhaps to keep your anger active.

        Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        And yet you are here nearly every day reading what these journalists write. You are either a masochist or a closet liberal. Which is it?

        Reply to Comment
        • SH

          Nah, he’s the best Hasbara could find.

          Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I enjoy reading how the other side thinks. It generally reinforces my views since I can consistently find flaws in the logical reasoning and world view of the other side. I would go with an explanation of a need for some minor intellectual stimulation that arguing here occasionally provides.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Laurent Szyster

      Can’t have your cake and eat it.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Noam Chomsky has been banned for ten years. As far as I know, he does not advocate violence, although he refuses to see the violent as without grievance. His ban was solely a matter of thought control.

      Don’t let this conflict eat up your life. It will take away all your potential if you let it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        Chomsky wasn’t banned for 10 years. He was denied entry into the territories, for which Israel apologized. Finklelstein was banned for years for not answering questions posed to him about a visit with Hezbollah.

        Reply to Comment
        • The ten years was from memory, probably false construction. But I have a strong feeling he was turned back at the airport, not told he could not enter the territories. In any case, why not let him do that? He’s an aging linguist, not a cell organizer.

          Reply to Comment
    7. Danny

      Consider this ban a badge of honor, as Noam Chmosky, Norman Finkelstein and many other good people also got roughed up, deported and banned by Israel’s secret police.

      As an ex-Israeli, I implore you to continue your good work in educating people about Israel’s misdeeds. Hopefully, the day will come when those who banned you from Israel will themselves be banned from entering all freedom-loving countries the world over.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        Good man that he is, Finkelstein has called Israel a ‘Satanic State’ and has insinuated that Israel bombed a Coptic Church in Alexandria, killing dozens.

        Are those the words of a ‘good man’ or are they the words of a blood libeling hater.

        Reply to Comment
    8. sowhat

      Maybe it was that appearance on Iranian TV that got you banned. Obviously, a hostile.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Joel

      Anna, your deportation now frees you to focus your attention on relieving the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
      Millions of Arab refugees are living hand-to-mouth in tent cities. One million kids need food, security and education.

      Will you help?

      Reply to Comment
      • Tim Arnold

        Ahhh and there we have it! First the personal insult then the staple comment for the apologist, ‘why do people keep on talking about X when Y is doing this?’

        Reply to Comment
        • Ilonj

          “why do people keep on talking about X when Y is doing this?’”

          Why do you people keep on ignoring evil that is constantly being perpetrated in Arab countries?

          Reply to Comment
    10. Vadim

      1. How do you think the US treats people that blatantly about the purpose of their visit? Why should Israel be different?
      2. What does looking like a Palestinian mean?
      4. You say “However, this time the purpose of my visit was not to go to the West Bank—it was to attend a conference in Tel Aviv, Israel” and then “I also thought that attending the conference would be a way to get a visa—and head to the West Bank after the conference to see friends and do the reporting I wanted to do”. So what is it?

      So, you came here, lied about the
      purpose of your visit and was deported for it. What are you complaining about?

      By the way, are you sure it was a Shin Bet officer and not border police?

      Reply to Comment
      • nathan

        would the US ban you for being a journalist? many would love that the US border control ban aljazeera journalists at crossing but they don’t. this is the difference. the contrast is so blatant that almost everyone lies at Israels border.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ilonj

          “Would the US ban you for being a journalist?”

          It DID!!!!!

          The Office of Censorship was an emergency wartime agency set up on December 19, 1941 to aid in the censorship of all communications coming into and going out of the United States.

          If you must compare the US, a super power, to Israel, then at least do so when it too was fighting for it’s survival against formidable enemies.

          Reply to Comment
          • nathan

            “If you must compare the US, a super power, to Israel, then at least do so when it too was fighting for it’s survival against formidable enemies.”

            Agreed. One should always compare the state of Israel to those states that were in a constant state of war that required them to bastardise their own concepts of human rights. Other countries have had the luxury to only have required this for a short time in comparison. Whereas for Israel it has been so constant that the judicial system takes a back seat to military rule. This has gone on for so long that the entire populace is complicity blind to the back-seat mentality of human rights.

            Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          Journalist?

          The woman can’t refrain from lying even in this small post (see my previous comment).

          She should be grateful she ended up deported and not jailed.

          Reply to Comment
    11. nathan

      I have had several friends have there possessions destroyed on exit and entry to Israel. they were Israeli activists. I’ve also had non-activist foreign student friends that never set foot in the territories get banned from Israel due to visa issues. what you experienced was a combination of the worst but probably not unique, sadly.

      I have also been told to lie to the border control. everyone is advised to lie, regardless of your purpose of entry or exit. just as a matter to reduce the surface of curiosity so one can catch there flight on time and maybe if lucky get some extra time in dutyfree.

      whatever the justifications for israels border dog policy the treatment of activists and intellectuals that question gov policy is uniquely disturbing. a pitty we can’t arrive by train to complete the picture

      Reply to Comment
    12. charles-jerusalem

      Why make so much noise about a fustrated anti-Israel activist?
      She wanted to write an article, she did it. It is a flop. OK, she will get an other chance in 10 years.
      I wonder what would have happenned had she flown to Damascus or Cairo.
      This kind of people are just not credible anymore.

      Reply to Comment
      • nathan

        “Yeah but Israel isn’t as bad as Egypt or Syria” is too ironic to take seriously. If we measured policies by the worst actors we’d get nowhere.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ilonj

          ” If we measured policies by the worst actors we’d get nowhere.”

          And if we let biased activist journalists who have no interest in balanced journalism, constantly bad mouth us in a nasty 100 year old war that we don’t want but about which we have no choice, where does that get us?

          ANSWER: where we are today.

          Reply to Comment
    13. Jane

      Israel does have a right to permit or deny entry to its borders, as a sovereign country. I’m not sure Anna can say her rights were denied, there’s no legal right of entry to a non-citizen to enter a country. And considering a simple google search of Anna’s name would raise red flags to any border patrol, I’m not sure what the story here is. Many countries refuse entry those who advocate against them and Anna cannot have it both ways. She cannot advocate for those to boycott Israel, but flounce angrily when Israel boycotts her.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Lawrence A Dickerson

      And I thought being banned from the Amazon Discussion Boards was a raw deal.It is heroic of you to “tell” of your negative experiences by the group that can’t see why they aren’t loved by all

      Reply to Comment
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