People with deeper knowledge of this subject will have to let me know if I’m wrong, but it seems pretty unheard of (not to mention absurd) for a country to determine that a citizen of another country is of an entirely different nationality. But Israel, in its infinite wisdom has decided that Arab-American U.S. citizens are not really U.S. citizens, but Palestinians in disguise.
The bizarre case began last month when a Lakeland, FL Arab-American family attempted to board a plane at Ben Gurion to return home after a long visit with family in Ramallah. Not so fast, said the Israelis. Though the mother, Wedad Yacoub, had been born in Kuwait, her husband was born in the West Bank. Israel now considered her husband (who’d been refused ENTRY to Israel earlier) Palestinian, and not American even though he’d been a U.S. citizen for 20 years and lived here for 30. Designating him as Palestinian somehow turned his children into Palestinians as well, even though they were all born in the U.S. They now needed a Palestinian passport (frankly I didn’t even know there was such a thing) and could only exit Israel via Jordan. This of course would render the airline tickets she’d purchased for her large family worthless and force her to buy new tickets from Amman to her U.S. home.
After some consideration, the Israelis decided that only Mrs. Yacoub could exit via Ben Gurion with her three youngest children, but that seven others had to remain in the West Bank. After frantically arranging for local family to come to the airport to pick up her children and care for them, Yacoub flew out of Israel. Later attempts by the remaining children to fly from Ben Gurion also failed. So six of the seven remaining children registered as Palestinians, received their Palestinian passports and traveled via Jordan back home to Florida. To misparaphrase the Mastercard commercial: Cost: Not exactly priceless–in fact, $15,000 (for the tickets from Jordan and not including the tickets they couldn’t use from Ben Gurion).
Lest you think that U.S. officials might make a big stink about this in defense of U.S. citizens being denied the right to call themselves U.S. citizens on Israeli soil–you’d be mistaken:
[CAIR community relations coordinator Jamila] Baraka said pleas to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and American authorities here have fallen on deaf ears. The publicity has resulted in calls of support but no real help, she said.
Baraka said she doesn’t understand why U.S. officials don’t step in.
For some time, Israeli officials have been making it very difficult for Palestinian-Americans to travel to and from the Occupied Territories. But this is the first time that I know of I’ve heard of a family being denied the right to EXIT Israel.
And let’s not forget the single family member, Yacoub Yacoub, who was so incensed at Israel’s chicanery that he refused to accede to the demand that he admit he is Palestinian and take out a Palestinian passport. He still sits stewing in Ramallah waiting for Israel or the U.S. State Department to come to their senses and let him leave as a proud U.S. citizen the way he came in–via Ben Gurion.
I find it astonishing that Israeli officials would try this bit of blackmail on the family:
[Ahmed] Bedier, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the family was told the problem could be solved if they signed a paper renouncing their Palestinian heritage and all future intention to become Palestinian citizens.
The Yacoubs immediately contacted U.S. State Department officials, who were sympathetic, but told the family it was Israeli policy.
Bedier said his organization had sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Aug. 29, urging her intervention.
“Our organization has received a rise in complaints over the summer from folks traveling in the West Bank as far as unfair treatment by the Israeli authorities, either on their way in or out. … We find that this treatment is unacceptable, that no American citizen should be subjected to this kind of humiliation. We’re puzzled by the double standard in the treatment,” he said.
Zvi Solow, an Israeli affiliated with Meretz wrote to me his speculation on what may lie behind the clampdown:
About 2 years ago two British citizens, tourists, of Arab & Pakistani origin, turned out to be suicide bombers (probably el Qaida). One blew himself up in a beachfront Tel Aviv cafe killing the waitress (who oddly enough was a young French citizen, a tourist, Jewish but not an ola – her family in France lamented “she wasn’t even a Zionist”). The other one tried to get away by swimming & drowned in the sea.
Since then there was a policy to treat Western tourists of Arab / Muslim origin with suspicion & in certain cases refuse them entry. As Western tourists don’t need a visa here, possibly some genius in the Interior ministry thought up this “patent”. In any case it was supposed to block entry of undesirables but not exit & some bureaucratic idiot at Ben Gurion decided to apply it on only part of a departing family.
I’ve forgotten how to say “dunce” in Hebrew. It seems an appropriate term here. When a reporter asked one of the returning family members when they’d be returning to visit their Palestinian family in Ramallah, the answer was: “Never.” I’d say that’s what Israel intended with this draconian policy.
Here’s my Swiftian “modest proposal” to address this issue and set Israel straight on honoring U.S. passports: I would propose that the U.S. government determine it will no longer honor all Israeli passports but force non-native Israelis to apply for passports from their birth countries and exit from the U.S. via Mexico, rather than New York City. How does that sound Mr. Olmert? What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, no?