Earlier this month, Palestinian American journalist, Noor Wazwaz was at Newark airport to board an El Al flight to Israel. She planned to visit her family in Al Quds (Jerusalem). During her security screening by Shin Bet agents, she was flagged as a “security threat” and subjected to six hours of interrogation, invasive searches of her luggage and electronic devices, and even forced to disrobe. All to prove she was not a terrorist. After all this, she was denied boarding and forced to travel on a different airline.
When she arrived at Ben Gurion, she was again detained for three hours with another round of interrogation. This included forcing her to tell the agent the names and relationships of every cell phone contact with a 972 (Israeli-Palestinian) area code.
Israeli TV news published this story about the US investigation. It contains more video she recorded in Ben Gurion on her arrival in Israel.
By the way, if you ever travel to Palestine-Israel, take a burner phone and don’t fly El Al. You could still be detained on arrival, but at least there will be no electronic trail for them to follow.
Wazwaz tweeted about her experience, documenting all of the repeated harassment. This went viral and tens of thousands of social media users retweeted her video account.
Then the Arab Anti Discrimination Committee filed a complaint with the US department of Transportation against the discriminatory treatment. As a result, the Department opened a formal investigation (Times of Israel story here) into El Al and Israeli harassment of Palestinian Americans. It released this statement:
The Department of Transportation is obligated to promote the rights of travelers to fly freely. Any type of discrimination is prohibited. It investigates complaints filed against airlines and is doing so against El Al.
This treatment is not new. Palestinians have suffered it for decades. It’s odd that the US has not taken notice of this odious practice till now. But better late than never. Undoubtedly, the visa waiver program is has brought the issue from the shadows into the light. This treatment is equally bad, if not worse for Israeli Palestinians. They are similarly harrassed even though they are, at least nomianlly, citizens of the State. West Bank and Gaza residents cannot even enter Israel for travel abroad.
When Israeli authorities learned of the US investigation, they opened their own. But it will not be a serious investigation, since they would be essentially investigating the Shin Bet for doing the job the State empowered it to do. It will be pro forma, so they can tell the Americans they did something. Israel followed the same protocol after murdering Shireen Abu Akleh: an Israeli investigation which cleared everyone responsible for her death. The Biden administration opened its own perfunctory probe after her surviving family caused enough embarrassment that it was forced to act. However, it has never released the results of its own investigation. Most likely, because Biden believes he has bigger fish to fry globally than to get into a dust-up with Israel.
El Al’s response to the accusations was:
El Al has received an inquiry from the US Department of Transportation regarding a complaint filed by a traveler. We are looking into the details of the incident along with the airport security unit. We will respond to the complaint accordingly.
During inspection of the traveler’s baggage, concerning technological alerts required further inspection, in accordance with security protocols. After the delay, she was speedily transferred to a different [non El Al] flight.
This is a large dose of mumbo-jumbo. As I write in the earlier post linked above, Shin Bet chief, Ronen Bar’s motto is “at airports every Arab is a terrorist.” It’s no surprise Wazwaz was treated as one as well.
The Shin Bet statement says essentially: we did our job accordingly. She got a different flight. That’s it. We’re free and clear. Or as the British would say: “I’m alright, Jack.” No admission that her treatment would not be repeated or that it was due to an unfortunate miscommunication. Just, it happened and that’s that.
I approached an Israeli security source and asked him to explain what happened. He told me that she traveled just a few days before Israel implemented new travel protocols for Palestinian-American travelers. He said with the new procedures this treatment will not be repeated. We’ll see. The proof is in actions, not words.
One major factor could bring about such changes. With this US and investigation it is signalling to Israel that it will not tolerate a continuation of the old regime, and its degrading treatment of Palestinian American travelers. If Israel wants admittance to the visa waiver program it will have to adhere to US standards, not Shin Bet standards.
Israel fears influx of Palestinians offered Israeli visas
In a related matter, an Israeli security source told a reporter that it expected double the number of Palestinian-Americans entering Israel than US officials projected. These 70,000 entrants would, he implied this would jeopardize Israeli security. He predicted, without offering proof, that they would overstay their 90-day visa, seek out marriage partners and become Israeli citizens.
Miscegenation is an obsession among Israeli Jews who advocate Jewish racial purity. The source’s unspoken warning is that they might marry Jewish women, have children and add to the Palestinian population, thus posing a demographic threat; and finally that they would pose a security threat.
The 70,000 number is deliberately inflated: there are 70,000 Palestinian-Americans living in the Occupied Territories. Not all of them will seek visas to travel. Perhaps over the course of several years all of them will request visas. But it certainly won’t happen all at once. And certainly won’t overwhelm the Israeli visa or security system.
The tourism minister too, criticized the new entry protocols:
‘I am opposed to the mad pursuit of the visa exemption for the U.S.,’ said Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz. ‘This will oblige us to allow the entry of unwanted parties, Palestinians, who will travel in the country. Who needs this?’
Imagine, this is the tourism minister. Rolling out the welcome mat for all. It seems there are “wanted” parties and unwanted. White Europeans and Americans are wanted. Christian pilgrims are wanted. European neo-Nazis are wanted. But Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Africans, not so much.
“Unwanted parties,” “infiltrators,” “cockroaches in a jar,” all terms Israelis use for Palestinians–or worse. Americans demands for equal treatment of its Palestinian-Ameican citizens may not change these racist attitudes, but it will force Israel to comply or risk losing its coveted visa-free US travel.