Americans of Palestinian origin complain of continued Israeli "discrimination" against them

Americans of Palestinian origin complain of continued Israeli "discrimination" against them

An agreement concluded between Israel and the United States to travel without a visa between the two countries raised the hopes of Palestinian Americans to facilitate the procedures they are subject to, but many of these travelers still complain of continued “discrimination” on the part of the Israeli authorities.

The US State Department stated that the goal of the mutual agreement concluded in July is for Israel to recognize all those who hold American citizenship “as American citizens and to receive equal treatment” regardless of their origins.

The agreement paved the way for some Americans of Palestinian origin to arrive through Ben Gurion Airport in Israel after this port remained prohibited for the vast majority of them for years, instead of traveling by land from Jordan.

Despite the progress made on paper, Americans of Palestinian origin complained of being subjected to unequal treatment, in a series of interviews conducted with them by Agence France-Presse in the United States and the Palestinian territories.

Hanna Hanania, a board member of the Palestinian American Council's advocacy group, traveled to Tel Aviv and described the change overall as "an improvement for everyone."

But when he left to return to the US state of Virginia, he said that he was subjected to a “comprehensive vetting process,” which included Israeli officials searching his car and insisting on seeing his Palestinian passport.

Ananias, who was born in Jerusalem, was also asked to stand in line for additional security checks. "The discrimination was very clear," he stressed.

"Almost everyone in this queue spoke Arabic," he told AFP. "It can be seen that most of them are Palestinians or Arabs."

The Israeli Immigration Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment on these complaints.

More than 5,400 Americans of Palestinian origin have arrived in Israel since July 20, according to the Population and Immigration Authority.

Washington is currently studying the possibility of including Israel in the full visa exemption program, with a decision to be made on September 30.

NYPD Officer Haider Darwish, 38, arrived in mid-August and said he was not given a three-month visa for no reason, but was instead only granted a month's residency.

“This is not fair,” Darwish said from the West Bank city of Ramallah. “If they want to move forward with this visa (waiver program), they should treat us exactly the same way they are treated when they arrive in the United States.”

A number of Palestinian Americans told AFP that they complained of ill-treatment at the US embassy in Jerusalem, which rejected AFP's request to interview them.

In the village of Turmus Aya, north of the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, where many of its residents hold American citizenship, Abdul-Jabbar sought advice from his neighbors before returning to Tennessee in the state of Georgia.

Abdul Jabbar, 50, said, “The checkpoints from the West Bank to the airport are what greatly complicate” the trip.

The neighbors advised him to leave the West Bank several hours before his travel date due to the many checkpoints, then he was subjected to a final inspection and was allowed to cross.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense, which administers civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, said: “Any citizen holding a B/2 (tourist) visa can pass through the crossings as usual. As for the nature of the security examination, it is carried out according to the factors taken by the security services.” At the various crossing points, taking into consideration.

The visa-free travel program included those with ties to the occupied West Bank, but its scope expanded on Monday to include the Gaza Strip, which has been subject to an Israeli siege for many years.

Americans of Palestinian origin who travel to Gaza face greater restrictions than those who go to the West Bank, according to rules announced by the US Embassy.

People from Gaza who live in the United States and who can now travel by air to Tel Aviv, but cannot enter the Gaza Strip, expressed their disappointment.

In July, 18-year-old Lara Abu Hamda tried to cross the Jordanian borders with the West Bank and Israel to no avail. She said, "I don't understand. I'm an American. Even if I was born in Gaza and have a Gaza ID card, why does that come into consideration?"

The Israeli Immigration Authority said that ten American citizens from Gaza who were not yet included in the program were denied entry, in addition to three American citizens from the West Bank.

A Gaza artist living in Chicago, who requested anonymity due to security concerns, said he was detained in a center outside Tel Aviv airport. He underwent comprehensive security checks before being taken to the plane without his bags and belongings, and with only his credit card.

The thirty-year-old artist said, “I am still trying to get rid of all the stress and anxiety that accumulated in me during the forty-eight hours in which I was treated as a suspect.”

Obtaining permission to leave through Israel is extremely difficult for Gaza residents. As a result, most people seeking to leave the region make the arduous and expensive journey across Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

In Gaza City, Saeed Arif Shaat said, “My family is very excited about the prospect of finally being able to travel through Israel’s Erez crossing.”

Americans living in Gaza must still apply for a travel permit that, according to the Office for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories, allows them to “travel through any international border crossing.”

Zeina Shaath, 23 years old and the daughter of Saeed Shaath, explained in her emphasis on the importance of being able to cross the Erez Crossing and travel by plane through Ben Gurion Airport, “We need our freedom and to live a normal life.”