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Tell Congress: Don't Codify Israel's Jim Crow-Like Policies

by Nour Joudah
August 1st, 2013

Congress Should Support Equal Rights, Not Israel's Systemic Discrimination

I am writing to you today to urge you to speak out and take action against a bill in which the U.S. government would codify Jim Crow-like policies against its citizens traveling to Israel.

Eight months ago, I was a high school English teacher living in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. After an amazing first semester with my students, I took a short vacation after first semester finals. On January 5, I arrived at the Israeli-controlled Jordanian-West Bank  border at Allenby Bridge so that I could return to my home and job. Despite my U.S.  citizenship, my one year multiple entry visa and residency permit granted by the Israeli government, and my work with a USAID-funded Quaker school – I was denied entry after six  hours of waiting and with no explanation whatsoever.

What followed were months of being stranded in Jordan, a country to which I have no ties, only to be denied entry again a second time after being advised by the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC to try again at Ben Gurion airport. This time, I was interrogated for even longer periods, then denied, strip searched, processed for deportation, taken to an off-site detention center, denied an emergency hearing by an Israeli judge, and deported back to Jordan the following morning for a second time.

My story is not an oddity. Perhaps the details of my work and organizational affiliation are unique, but it is not a special case or a rare occurrence. My story is one of hundreds every year of U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent, Arab descent, Muslim faith, persons of color, or simply tourists who Israel arbitrarily denies entry and deems “security threats.

As someone who was raised in Tennessee and grew up with stories of a Jim Crow past, I immediately saw the parallels of racist and discriminatory policies as I sat, twice, in waiting rooms with individuals singled out and treated like criminals simply for being of a certain ethnicity, religion, or political viewpoint.

When I was pulled out of my jail cell later that night to take a call from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, I was told nothing could really be done to help me “when it comes to Israel.”  

Today, Congress is considering passing bills that would not only codify this discrimination against U.S. citizens, but also reward it. Both versions of the United States-Israel Strategic Partner Act of 2013 (S. 462, H.R. 938) include a provision for a visa waiver agreement with Israel. If the Senate version of this bill passes, it would give Israel the right to do what no other country in the world that is a part of the visa waiver program is given permission to do – allow it to continue to deny entry to any U.S. citizen, while allowing Israelis to enter the United States without a visa. 

You can help stop these bills. It is outrageous that the Department of State should feel comfortable declaring publicly on their website that "U.S. citizens are advised that all persons applying for entry to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza...may be denied entry or exit without explanation" and specifically notes that "U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may be denied entry," while Congress considers rewarding Israel for this discrimination.

Write and call your Senators and Representative today! Make plans to meet with your Members of Congress during the August Congressional recess to express your opposition to this bill. Make sure they know that their constituents do not support their government allowing U.S.  citizens to be discriminated against at international borders. Tell them that Israel’s extension of inhibiting freedom of movement to U.S. citizens is unacceptable. Tell them that this discrimination is only a taste of what Palestinians living under occupation face every day. Tell them that sanctioning racism against their constituents emboldens Israel to operate with impunity in every other regard, because what else is there left for the United States to object to when it does not even stand up for its own citizens?

Thank you.

With respect and towards justice,

Nour Joudah                                        

*Nour Joudah has a Masters of Arts in Arab Studies from Georgetown University.  Nour was living and teaching in Ramallah prior to a re-entry denial, and subsequent (potential) ban from traveling to Palestine.  Nour is currently living and working in Washington, DC as the Assistant Editor at the Journal of Palestine Studies.