Aug 17 2019
Whenever my Palestinian American cousins come to visit us, in Jerusalem, they always come prepared. In addition to the family-size package of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, they bring books and an all-important set of playing cards. From past experience, they know that at the Israeli-controlled terminal of the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge they will be subjected to a long wait before getting the approval to enter. Instead of allowing this Israeli humiliation to consume them, my relatives play cards as they wait for hours.
Unlike most American visitors, Americans of Palestinian origin are routinely discriminated against. They are forced to wait long hours and to undergo rigorous and humiliating searches and questioning.
Of course, not all Palestinian Americans are allowed in, as we have seen with the case of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). The humiliating letter she was forced to sign, where she asks for “humanitarian” consideration to visit her 90-year-old grandmother in order to get the Israelis to allow her to visit, is par for the course for Palestinians who have experienced the travel blues for more than half a century. Small wonder that she has now rethought her decision by deciding to withdraw from the trip.
Whenever my brother — a lawyer in his sixties who is a member of the New York state and Israel bars — is stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, he follows the orders of the 18- or 19-year-old Israeli army conscript religiously. “I respect your gun,” he sometimes says, after responding to whatever ridiculous question the soldier manning the checkpoint would ask.
Naturally, many who were born in or who wish to visit Palestine don’t even bother trying. It’s not only because they don’t want to experience Israel’s arbitrary exercise of its “sovereign” rights, but also because they can’t stand seeing their homeland under occupation.
I am familiar with these arbitrary Israeli decisions. When my two daughters married, we tried to organize a group of family and friends from Jordan to join us for the happy occasion. But even though we sent the list of invitees to the Israelis for approval well in advance, when we finally received permission at the last minute, a number of the invitees were denied, without any obvious reason. A husband was allowed but his wife was not. A pastor and his wife were arbitrarily denied, as was a 70-year-old family friend.
While it must have been difficult, I can sympathize with the initial decision Tlaib took to sign a letter asking the Israeli interior minister to allow her entry for “humanitarian” reasons. I am sure Tlaib chose to bite her lip and, like all of us, accept the Israeli humiliation in order to fulfill her family’s desire as well as her own legislative duty. While a visit to a relative is generally a normal act not requiring a humanitarian appeal, that is not the case for many Palestinians. Obviously, she soon rebelled at the added restrictions and canceled the visit.
Palestinians in Jerusalem with Israeli residency, such as my two daughters, for example, have a hard time raising their families. The Israeli government doesn’t recognize the need for a couple to live together as a humanitarian right, a draconian rule affirmed by the Israeli high court. As such, a West Bank Palestinian spouse cannot get permission to stay overnight with his or her spouse in East Jerusalem until they are over 25 (for a female) and over 35 (for a male).
Travel to Palestine, a country recognized by 140 members of the United Nations, shouldn’t need Israeli approval. If anyone still had any doubts that Palestine is a country under occupation, what the Israeli government did to the U.S. representatives proves precisely the point that the Trump administration has been trying to deny. Decisions on entry to the occupied territories (including the Gaza Strip) should not automatically be the exclusive right of Israel. Until a permanent solution is found, what is perhaps needed is a set of transparent guidelines monitored by an international forum.
It was also troubling to see the Israelis inserting a much more troubling condition. The second half of the Tlaib letter to the Israeli minister of interior, which required her “not to promote boycotts against Israel during my stay,” subordinated the U.S. Congress to the Israeli authorities — despite Tlaib’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and her status as a U.S. legislator. I wasn’t surprised by this condition, but I am sure many Americans would be shocked to know that an ally would make such a demand from a duly elected representative to Congress.
Yet this is a common occurrence for those who fight for Palestinian rights. Palestinian poets have been imprisoned, journalists have been shot at and beaten, and cultural events have been banned by Israel under a variety of dubious justifications.
While Palestinians might have gotten used to constant Israeli discrimination and humiliation, that doesn’t mean it is right or acceptable. These humiliations only increase the Palestinian resolve to fight, using nonviolent means, for an independent state or a shared state with equal rights. Living under occupation is not, and should not be, tolerated.
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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Days of Palestine’s editorial policy.
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