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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination » Harvard law student deported and barred from Israel for life

Harvard law student deported and barred from Israel for life

Hebah Ismail, an hijab-wearing Harvard 3rd year law student, was detained and then barred from Israel for life on a routine research trip to the country apparently because she refused to give access to her personal emails. Harvard Law Record reports:

A warm smile and easy laugh reveal Hebah Ismail’s unthreatening, gentle personality. An American citizen, this 3L of Egyptian descent works with the International Human Rights Clinic on projects related to Bedouin land rights. Hebah wears a hijab. She still does not know which of one, or combination, of these characteristics prompted the immigration personnel at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport deny her entry to Israel.

After continued interrogation, she was approached by an authority:

“I don’t remember his exact words,” she says. “But basically he told me, ‘Before we get started, we want you to know that this is a democratic country, and we respect other points of view. But we found things on your external hard drive that are very concerning.’ He was sure I had some other objective, but I had no idea what that could be.”

Hebah tried to assure the security officer that her trip related only to the clinical project and a personal desire to visit Jerusalem. But he remained convinced that an article on her computer describing modern Israeli as being on land previously held by Palestinians pointed to a more insidious motivation and began pressuring Ismail to allow him to read her emails.

“He told me, ‘I cannot let you through until I know I can go home and get a good night’s sleep,’” Ismail said. “He kept saying, ‘If you let me go through your email, I’ll let you in.”

Ismail had been cautioned in advance that he had no right to read her personal emails. Her decision to bar him from her emails resulted in the immediate confiscation of her cell phone, 23-hour detention in a holding area until the next return flight to the U.S., and a permanent  ban on travel to Israel. Ismail’s professor who she was trying to meet in Israel commented:

“There is a general practice of denying entry to American citizens,” Amara said. “Its not uncommon with those of Palestinian origin, or anything about Jerusalem, the Negev, human rights. In the past, I had an American student of Pakistani descent who was also denied entry. No matter what you say, they assume you are going to the Territories.”

Written by

Cecilie Surasky is the grandaughter of Socialist Zionist activists, and her analyses of Israel-Palestine politics have appeared in media outlets around the world. She is the Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and the founding editor of Muzzlewatch, JVP's blog documenting efforts to silence open debate about Israel-Palestine policy.

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