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When it comes to racist border policies, Israel has no leg to stand on

The fuss ‘The Jerusalem Post’ made about its correspondent being denied entry to Saudi Arabia on religious, racial or national grounds is too much for one Arab-American journalist who was denied entry to Israel.

By Anna Lekas Miller

Passengers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Passengers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

On Friday, United States President Barack Obama landed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was a whirlwind visit to reassure King Abdullah that even though the U.S. had backed down from intervening in Syria, had no intention of showing solidarity with the Arab world whatsoever and will continue negotiating with Saudi arch-rival Iran, Washington is still very interested in any oil that the desert kingdom has to offer.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the desert camp. Although most of President Obama’s press entourage received the necessary visas to accompany the presidential visit without a problem, Jerusalem Post White House correspondent Michael Wilner was denied a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The Jerusalem Post quickly condemned the action as exclusionary and anti-Semitic. In one of no fewer than four articles on its reporter’s exclusion, the paper’s editorial board asked, “How are we to understand the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s crass treatment of The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s only English language daily?”

We need look no further than the Kingdom of Israel’s crass treatment of a certain Open Zion reporter, who shall remain nameless. Just kidding, it’s me.

It was midnight on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport when my plane touched down. The applause of overeager American visitors and Israelis returning home filled the cabin. I was busy trying not to vomit. A few months earlier, after a seven-hour-long interrogation at the Israeli border, I had sworn I would never again set foot in Ben-Gurion Airport. However, after being invited to attend a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, I was back, Hebrew-language invitation letter in hand, along with the phone numbers of four good Jewish boys who promised to vouch for me.

It wasn’t good enough.

Four hours later, I was on a plane to Istanbul and banned from Israel for 10 years.

I will spare you the details of the interrogation, as I have written about them here, here and here. Let’s just say that journalist or no journalist, U.S. citizen or no U.S. citizen, I am a few shades too brown for the only democracy in the Middle East.

Like Michael Wilner, I am a professional journalist and had a professional purpose for my visit to Israel.

Like Michael Wilner, I was most likely denied entry based on my racial and religious background or affiliation with a certain looked-down-upon nation (in my case Palestine, in his case Israel). Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are renown for doing this. Saudi Arabia gives preferential treatment to Muslim foreign visitors, and has denied entry to Americans based on religion and nationality in the past.

Unlike Michael Wilner, I am not a unique case. I am one of many Arab- and Muslim-Americans who are denied entry to Israel, and by effect of Israel controlling the borders of occupied Palestine, to Palestine.

Unlike Michael Wilner, I had no outrage from the State Department or support from the White House. From other people’s experiences, I know that if I had called the United States Embassy or State Department, they would have asked if I was Jewish, and when I replied no, would not have helped me. While a U.S. citizen abusively detained in Syria, Lebanon or Iran would have elicited handwringing sympathy and condemnations of the cruelty of barbaric, western civilization-destroying regimes, my U.S.-born, slightly-too-brown-for-Israel self being interrogated, denied entry and deported with multiple police escorts is merely enforcing national security.

Granted, there have been a few steps in the right direction recently. After a seemingly endless controversy, the United States appears poised to deny Israel entry into its coveted visa waiver program, citing Israel’s “national security” policy that openly discriminates against Arab and Muslim travelers – even those whose passports carry a personal message from none other than John Kerry kindly requesting that the holder be permitted “to pass without delay or hindrance.”

Just yesterday, another Jerusalem Post editorial acknowledged the uproar over Israel’s denial of entry to Muslim and Arab-Americans. But instead of condemning, or dismissing it in a normal public relations move, it suggested that Israel’s notorious racial profiling should be a “role model for other countries.” Great.

My heart goes out to Michael Wilner. As a journalist banned from a country, I know how frustrating it is to not be able to do one’s job – or to be prevented from doing it well.

But isn’t it time that we held Israel to the same standards as the rest of the world on these matters?

Wait a minute; never mind. Nobody’s boycotting Saudi oil either.

Anna Lekas Miller is an independent journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. She writes about Israel/Palestine, the Middle East and Arab-America and tweets the daily antics of her #browngirlproblems @agoodcuppa. She is currently working on a book about Palestinian-Americans banned from Israel and Jewish-Americans traveling on Birthright. Check it out here.

Related:
When racial profiling is a national policy
‘No Falasteen for you!’ Shin Bet banned me from Israel for 10 years
An end to humiliating airport searches?
Israeli discrimination against Arab-Americans could hold up visa waiver for Israelis

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    COMMENTS

    1. shaun

      +972 and other critics of Israel often point out the superfluous argument made by Defenders of Israel “ but other countries are worse, so don’t blame Israel”
      Here +972 is using the same argument to once again bash Israel.
      Make up your mind.
      If your mission is “justice and human right” or
      Just blame Israel no matter what!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      Um, to quote the reporter from one of her many articles seeking to get mileage out of this story: “It started with my record of lying at the border the first time…”

      Oops.

      I guess “racism” isn’t a part of what happened to her. I mean, as far as I know there are Al Jazeera reporters working in Israel, Judea and Samaria.

      But this woman lied to authorities and didn’t adhere to rules. She didn’t like the rules, so, you know, she tried her own approach. When that failed and she wasn’t permitted back in, she proceeded to accuse Israel of racism.

      Let’s be clear: what happened in Saudi Arabia to Wilner is bigotry. What happened to Lekas Miller is the punishment that foreigners experience when they seek to enter a country after having lied to authorities.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        Oh, she lied, the impertinent person that she is. Shame on her. How can she exploit the infinite trust the border police has offered her?

        Let me quote the context of her confession: “I was caught lying at the border—as everyone is instructed to do when going to the West Bank. The reason for this is that the Israeli Border Control is notorious for turning away anyone who claims that they intend to visit the West Bank—or in their words, “the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.” If it is suspected that you might intend to visit the West Bank—particularly if you look Palestinian—you are almost always interrogated, and often given a shorter visa than the typical three-month tourist visa.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          I see. So when your politics dictate that you should lie at the border, then apparently that makes it okay. Then, when the people who guard the border tell you that you can’t come in because you lied, you blame it on their racism.

          I love your logic.

          Reply to Comment
          • Richard

            I’m pretty sure that you love the logic of a suppressing system in power. The regime frames the rules which give the regime infinite options to rule against any individual the regime doesn’t like. It’s the logic of such a framework of executive tools that it educates to lie if you want to save some options for your own purpose, no matter how peaceful your intentions are.

            I’m sure as well that you love the logic inside the option of the armed forces to set up a closed military zone any where any time they like. This is the logic palestinians face every day: no matter how they behave and act, for them there is just one logic: the logic of having no free will. And that’s what any human being would fight for.

            You’re talking logic? Make some research at checkpoints and tell me about the logic of the system. I’m sure you’ll have some fun with that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            This entire conversation is making me want to go out and buy some Ahava and Sodastream products.

            Any recommendations?

            Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        Perhaps she did lie at the border. If someone wanting to enter Israel for the purpose of visiting the West Bank tells the authorities of the reason for the visit he or she will be sent home after several hours as a “guest” of Israel in detention cell or given a very short term visa. There is no way to visit the West Bank without going through Israel so Israeli policies force people to lie.

        Bar, had you been honest you would have either included the URL or the entire article. Since you chose not to do that here is the URL for Anna’s article for The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/27/why-i-got-banned-from-israel.html

        Reply to Comment
    3. Tomer

      The difference is that Israel is NOT DENYING Saudi Arabia’s right to exist BUT the Arabs ARE DENYING Israel’s right to exist.

      The Arab-american writing above even says that Israel is nothing less than “occupied fakestine”. The guy never realizes that no such “p nation” ever existed in historical time.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        Perhaps you have forgotten that in 2002 the Saudis put forth a peace plan that would have given Israel recognition from every Arab government. In order to gain that recognition Israel would have had to end the occupation and withdraw to the 1967 line. Israel rejected that plan out of hand making no counter offer.

        It is more than obvious that Israel’s goal is to continue taking more of the land of the West Bank and to continue whining about having Arab enemies. It is also obvious that Israel loves having perceived enemies so that they can continue to act as victims even as they are the victimizers.

        Israel can have peace, a peace with justice. I am certain that the people want peace but does the government really want it? I don’t think so. Their continued building of settlements shows that Israeli government talk of peace is just empty rhetoric.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      I love how all the hasbarists come out of the wood works to try to make excuses for Israel’s bigotry against Arab journalists trying to gain access to do their job.

      The fact is that Arabs being denied entry to Israel (or even Palestine) is as routine an occurrence at Ben Gurion airport as the silly Israeli custom of clapping after a landing (yet another example of Israeli infantile behavior). Arabs routinely get rough treatment at the airport, and often are denied entry solely because of their names.

      No amount of hasbara can excuse that away.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        You don’t clap when you come to a landing in Israel?

        Even Omar Barghouti claps. Come on!

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          No, I don’t clap. It’s a childish Israeli custom that has its origins in Israeli reverence to (former) IDF pilots. In general I try to take flights with as few Israelis on board because I find them to be overly loud and obnoxious people.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            No, it has its origins in Zionism. You see, Israel is the culmination of a dream Jews have shared for thousands of years to return to Zion. When you land, you have arrived. That’s why people clap.

            That you don’t understand this reveals so much about you that it’s like looking at a map.

            As for Israelis being “loud and obnoxious” people, I assume you mean the Jewish Israelis, not the Arab Israelis, right?

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            You couldn’t be more wrong about the reason for the clapping. Most Israelis are born cynics who don’t buy into that Zionism crap (at least the ones I know). Most of the Sabras are pissed when their vacation is over and they have to come back to reality of the struggle of everyday life in Israel. They are happy if their plane touches down smoothly, which is why they clap (trust me on that).

            The people you’re describing are the old American Jews who, upon disembarking from the plane, get down on their hands and knees and kiss the tarmac (how many Sabras have you seen doing that?).

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Dude, do you know how many Israeli families with kids I know who have moved back to Israel after years abroad? At least a dozen. And these are people who have had jobs with Microsoft, Google and other high tech companies. They move back because they want to give their kids an Israeli childhood just like they had.

            You seriously have no clue. Read your typical siddur. Read your seder hagaddah. Israel is a culmination of a dream and most Israelis love Israel. Heck, I hear even Noam Sheizaf claps when he lands.

            By the way, you didn’t answer my question. Israeli Arabs or Israeli Jews?

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            “They move back because they want to give their kids an Israeli childhood just like they had.”

            For every sap that comes back, I can show you two smart ones who know a thing or two about the real Israel and would chop off their right arm for a chance to make a better life elsewhere.

            I grew up in Israel in the 80’s, and I have to admit that it was a good childhood. But things have gone seriously downhill in the last 30 years or so. In my opinion, Israel is no longer a good place to bring children up in. Israeli education – once the pride and joy of every Israeli – has become a joke. If for no other reason, I would keep my kids in another country for the sake of their education.

            And I would go to jail in order to prevent my kids from enlisting in the Israeli army, which has become strictly an occupation army for all intents and purposes.

            I’ll give Zionism credit for knowing how to indoctrinate Jews with all manner of sentimental schmaltz and quasi-religious hogwash. But if you live a couple of years abroad in a normal country, and see how peaceful life can be, you’ll be amazed how quickly you forget all that ideological crap.

            I suspect your Google friends had language and culture shock issues they couldn’t sort out.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Ah yes, the old “mah, ata fryer” argument presented to those who choose to do anything the person doesn’t like. In this case, it’s Zionism.

            Look, the families I mentioned aren’t “saps” and they’re certainly not stupid. They have lived abroad. They live or have lived in the USA, Canada, France, Africa. Then, after spending some years in those countries, typically earning a solid income, sending their kids to public and in some cases private schools, they choose to move back to Israel.

            Why do they do it? Usually it’s because they love Israel, because they want to raise their children there and because they see that living abroad isn’t the nirvana they anticipated. Their kids integrate fairly rapidly and if you speak to them, they’re usually happier in Israel than in their previous home abroad.

            Sorry that this conflicts with your idiotic, instinctive hatred of Israel, but these are facts.

            *clap clap clap clap*

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Look what I’ve just read. This is an Israeli who is a senior engineer on the company Facebook just purchased for $2 billion. He has advanced degrees from US institutions and probably made millions from this sale:

            “After graduating TAU, Katz went on to do his graduate (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and post-graduate (Carnegie Mellon University) work in the US. “I left because it sounded like an interesting and exciting thing to do,” Katz said. “I know that people in Israel are very concerned with ‘brain drain,’ and how the lack of opportunities is driving promising students out of the country, but I didn’t find that to be the case.” Had he stayed in Israel, Katz said, he is sure he would have gotten into a challenging program that would have utilized his talents fully. “It’s been a very enjoyable adventure, but home is home, and I plan to return at some point.””

            http://www.timesofisrael.com/a-taste-of-israeli-tech-in-facebooks-2-billion-buy/

            Home is home…

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            I wasn’t sure about your origins given your chosen monkier on this site but it’s clear you’re not Israeli.

            Only foreigners quote the siddur or pesach seder in an argument. Them and dati leumi wingnuts who are usually the offspring of foreigners themselves (like Naftali Bennett).

            I use the word “foreign” to indicate that you are outside and unfamiliar with Israeliness. Your only connection is the Jewish religion.

            Finally, your anecdote doesn’t prove anything. Israel is still a “great” place to live if you can earn like a Google or Microsoft R&D employee. That is an American or European salary in Israel. That puts you in the top 1% of Israeli earners. That’s how unequal the society is. Most married families earn 12K shekels, and that’s the average, which means that the “mean” is lower. So, yea, a well paid Google employee can afford to move back to Israel without a serious cost to their standard of living. Everyone I know that isn’t an engineer would give their left foot to get the hell out of Israel. I’m sure you have many Israelis calling you crazy for moving to the country unless you’re hanging out with wingnuts in Jerusalem or the settlements. Or you’re in a little annoying bubble of recent American olim.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            “Everyone I know that isn’t an engineer would give their left foot to get the hell out of Israel.”

            You clearly need new friends.

            As for the rest of your comments, enjoy your guesses.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Indeed, when the family of Abraham reached Palestine (Cana’an?), all were clapping. More hygienic than kissing the ground!

            Reply to Comment
          • JG

            People clap after landings cause they are idiots, nothing else. Nobody claps for his cab or bus driver after arrival.
            And this stupid habit is not a Isreali invention, dumb tourist do it all day all over the world.
            German tourist clapping if they arrive in Mallorca, and they are neither zionists nor is this sort of holy homeland for them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Only idiots clap when they get to Mallorca. They’re the fools who think they’ve landed in Israel.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Rehmat

      Did the gays at JP know that the White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes (a Zionist Jew)described Obama visit as an “opportunity to reaffirm the importance” of America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel?

      Obama also avoided to discuss women’s rights with the King despite a campaign by the Israel Lobby and the Amnesty International.

      http://rehmat1.com/2014/03/30/obama-ignores-womens-rights-in-saudi-arabia/

      Reply to Comment
    6. Anna’s “Daily Beast” confession in full may shed a bit more light:

      ‘It started with my record of lying at the border the first time. Then—in order to stay three months, the normal length of a tourist visa—I’d gotten an appointment at the Ministry of the Interior to renew my visa, and a document saying I was legal until my appointment—a whole two months. But at my visa appointment the clerk ripped my document, making it look like I had overstayed my visa. These were the first two strikes against me.

      ‘The third—and final—strike was that I refused to give the Shin Bet officer my Palestinian contacts when he requested them. It didn’t matter. He still took my phone and took down the contact information for any remotely Arabic-sounding name and told me I was to be deported and banned for “not cooperating.”’

      Her self reported first strike was lying about intent to visit the West Bank (which lots of people do). Her second strike, if I understand rightly, has a State official soiling a legal document so that it become illegal (tearing it). There is an illegal act here–that of the bureaucrat. The third strike is her refusal to tender her contact information.

      The second strike implies infidelity in staying in the country, although the international portal likely didn’t know how that came about (through the tearing). It is not all that surprising, then, that she was under suspicion–although not through her own fault.

      She could, of course, be lying about the second strike. But it would not surprise me to find it truthful. She may well have been trapped by a very petty hatred by an anonymous face. (I got treated more than fair once in the UK when beginning a year residency, and it occurred to me then that if I were not an American with a work visa for University College London the bureaucrat I faced may have decided differently.)

      When you’re Arab, people know how to make your life worse–for a long while. This may be what happened to her. Responsibility sort of dissolves, and that often happened, I suspect, in immigration matters.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Rehmat

      To fully understand Israeli ‘racist mentally’, one needs to study Ben White’s latest book, “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”.

      Israeli embassy in London and the British Jewish Lobby ran a campaign against the launching of Ben Whites book.

      http://rehmat1.com/2014/03/24/ben-white-on-israeli-apartheid/

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        The only racists are the Arabs who think that only Arabs have the right to have independence and self determination. They already have 22 Arab Muslim countries but deny the right to have ONE, only ONE independent Jewish nation state in a land in which Jews lived since time immemorial and where they had an independent Jewish state before anyone even heard of the Arab invaders.

        You want racism? Look at Arab racism and supremacism!!!!!

        Reply to Comment
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