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What about the Arabs?

Comment
By Dr James J Zogby


The airport harassment received by American Jew Peter Beinart, a prominent liberal writer and TV commentator detained at an Israeli airport, has been documented by The New York Times.

It also mentioned a number of other US Jews similarly detained and questioned about their political views on Israel’s occupation policies.

But its article made no mention of how Israel has, for decades, meted out far harsher treatment to Arab Americans flying into Ben Gurion Airport or crossing the Allenby Bridge.

The Times’ piece also failed to note the extent to which the US government is responsible for the brazenness of Israel’s impunity.

I have personally been subjected to hours of frustrating and humiliating interrogations by Israeli officials (even when I was entering the country on official business in my capacity as Co-Chair of Builders for Peace, a project created by then US Vice-President Al Gore).

Since the 1970s I have logged with the State Department complaints by hundreds of American citizens of Arab descent travelling to, or within, Israel and the Occupied Territories.

These include being detained for hours of questioning; denied entry and forced to purchase a return ticket home; forced to surrender American passports and made to secure, against their will, a Palestinian ID document; denied permission to exit; strip searched; and having possessions stolen or deliberately destroyed by Israeli airport inspectors.

The stories, many of them recent and posted on the website of the Arab American Institute, are deeply hurtful and demeaning.

Because these practices are so systematic, many Palestinian Americans have simply stopped going to the occupied lands to visit their families.

This behaviour is in clear violation of Israel’s obligations to the US, including the 1951 US-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation – in which Israel pledges to permit US citizens “to travel freely, to reside at places of their choice; to enjoy liberty of conscience” and to guarantee them “the most constant protection and security”.

It also ignores a message on the opening page of every US passport, which says: “The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”

Instead of protecting its citizens and insisting that Israel honours its treaty obligations, US officials feign powerlessness as Israel violates the rights of Arab Americans with impunity.

In effect, they have allowed Israel to define distinct classes of American citizenship: unquestioning Jewish Americans; Jewish Americans and others who challenge their policies; and, at the lowest rung, Americans of Arab descent.

Especially hurtful to Arab Americans is the travel advisory issue by the US State Department, warning Americans with Arabic names, especially those of Palestinian descent, to expect being singled out for different treatment on entry to Israel — effectively accepting Israel’s discriminatory policy.

I have sat with secretaries of state and national security advisers, presenting them documentary evidence of this Israeli abuse.

They expressed outrage and assured me they would raise the issue “at the highest levels” with their Israeli counterparts, reporting back to me about assurances they received.

But the systematic discrimination against and humiliation of Americans of Arab descent not only continues, it has worsened.

Meanwhile, the US shrugs its shoulders, as if to say: “We tried. There is nothing more we can do.”

Well there is more they can do, but they cannot or will not muster the political courage to protect the rights of my community when Israel is concerned.

So excuse my frustration with the sudden “discovery” of and concern with this Israeli behaviour by The New York Times, simply because it is being meted out to American Jews.

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