Supporting Palestine can now get you denied entry to the US

First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/10/2018

I have been a severe critic of the current US administration’s policy towards the Palestinians. But does this make me a possible security threat to the US? Of course not

In April 2017, while travelling for a routine family holiday to Jerusalem, I was denied entryupon arrival at Tel Aviv airport. Israeli authorities’ official – and bizarre – explanation for the entry denial was: I had attempted to “gain illegal entry”. However, being British citizens, we are normally allowed to travel to Israel without a visa. We have it issued at the entry point and I had obtained it on many occasions before.

But as I came to realise later the real reason was due to my role as vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), a UK-based organisation that campaigns peacefully for Palestinian rights and which upholds the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s occupation.

BDS promoters denied

In March 2017, Israel passed the “BDS law“, which allowed it to deny entry to those engaged in BDS movement promotion. My colleague and PSC chair, Hugh Lanning, was denied entry soon after the law was passed. Another colleague, Anwar Makhlouf, head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, was also denied entry at the Allenby Bridge based on the same law.

When I contacted both the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the foreign office in London for an explanation, I received the same reply: this was a sovereign decision for Israel. This meant Britain did not even acknowledge that Israel has no sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian Territories. The UK’s position is what gives Israel the green light to conduct its policy with total impunity.

Even pro-Palestine Jewish foreign nationals, who are supposedly entitled to go to Israel by the Law of Return (which grants citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world) have been denied entry, and even denied permission to board their flights to Israel.

In July 2017, five members of an interfaith delegation were denied permission to board a Lufthansa flight at Washington DC’s Dulles International Airport that would ultimately take them to Tel Aviv. Among them was Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who said in a statement: “Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi.”

She added: “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv district Court on 11 October, 2018 (AFP)

Last July, Ariel Gold, co-director of BDS campaign group Code Pink, was denied entry at Ben Gurion airport despite obtaining a visa in advance to take a course at the Hebrew University. Her deportation, and those of others, are normally ordered by Israeli Minister of Security Gilan Erdan, and Israeli Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri.

The most recent case of entry denial involved Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American student, despite the fact that she has recently been granted a student visa for her masters’ degree in the Hebrew University. Alqasem spent days in detention at Tel Aviv airport struggling to be allowed to join the course she had registered for.

At the time of writing, Alqasem was planning a second appeal to Israeli courts. She stood her ground, refusing to bow to the demands by Erdan to renounce the BDS movement.

When I was denied entry to Israel last year, the Israeli interrogator had printed many pages of my tweets and challenged me about a small number of them. However, because they were presented to me in Hebrew I declined the opportunity to comment.

Israel’s arrests of Palestinians for social media posts have soared. In May, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Centre for Studies (PPC) said that Israel had detained some 500 Palestinians, including women and children, because of their social media posts. In 2015, Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet, was detained for three years, before her release last month, for writing a poem, entitled “Resist my people, resist.”

US ban?

Entry denial due to BDS movement promotion is an established Israeli policy. I wonder, however, if my activity on social media, and my op-eds on the Palestinian conflict, were the reasons behind being denied boarding of a US-bound plane at Heathrow airport in August.

US authorities have thus far refused to provide me with an explanation as to why this happened despite having initially secured approval through the visa waiver (ESTA) scheme, just as any other British citizen is normally entitled to do.

ESTA entitles the holder to travel to the US without a visa for a two-year period. I had obtained this in the past and travelled to the US to attend conferences connected to my academic work without any problem, the last time being in 2015.

My trip was planned at short notice to spend Eid Al-Adha with relatives in America. Having obtained my ESTA, I made my way to Heathrow to board a Virgin Atlantic flight to Seattle on 17 August. Upon arriving, I tried to check-in via the terminals but could not.

I was informed by a member of staff that I would not be allowed to travel since my ESTA had been declined, despite its initial approval. No explanation was given. I was then told that I could apply for a visa at the American Consulate in London.

I was shocked and devastated. I had now missed the window for my holiday and lost a substantial amount of money, which was not recoverable.

What could possibly have changed since my last trip to the US? My immediate answer was that there was a new administration in the White House, with little tolerance for foreigners and which is blindingly supportive of Israel.

However, I decided to investigate further before my hunch was confirmed. I wrote to the US ambassador in London and completed a “redress” request directly to the US Department for Homeland Security.

Hugh Lanning addresses a Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in the UK in 2014 (PSC/Flickr)

A couple of weeks later, the embassy responded through its Customs and Border Protection Attache saying: “Whilst the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are unable to discuss any person’s denial of an ESTA or their admission into the US due to security/privacy policy laws, I can confirm that you will require Non-Immigrant visa should you wish to travel to the US in the future.”

The “redress” response, which arrived a few days later, was almost unintelligible.

Trump’s America

In the absence of an explanation, I am left with the conclusion that Trump’s America does not tolerate criticism of its policies and that it works very closely with Israel, sharing intelligence about individuals who are deemed undesirable for both countries.

It is safe to assume that Israeli authorities have supplied US authorities with names of individuals like myself who have been denied entry because of their advocacy for the Palestinian people. However, for the US to then deny them entry based on this peaceful work is very troubling.

I have been a severe critic of the current US administration’s policy towards the Palestinians. But does this make me a possible security threat to the US? Of course not. However, it helps Israel to further bully its critics into silence if they fear being denied entry to other countries that Israel can influence.

Neither denial of entry to Israel nor to the US will silence supporters of the Palestinian people. In fact, this will embolden us to be even more vocal in our criticism of apartheid Israel.

Photo: Travellers arrive at the international terminal of O’Hare International Airport on 25 April, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois (AFP)

Interview: We Must Be Careful Whether to Say Saudi Journalist ‘Is Alive or Not’ – Scholar

I was interviewed by Sputnik about Jamal Khashuggi on 8/10/2018

Concerns are growing for the well-being of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday.

His fiancee waited for him outside the consulate for 11 hours, but there was no sign of Khashoggi leaving, and he has not been seen or heard by anyone since. Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime who had been living in self-imposed exile in America, had gone to the embassy to collect a document certifying that he was divorced, in order to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Sputnik has discussed the issue with Kamel Hawwash, academic and writer on Middle Eastern affairs — whom he met a week ago.

Sputnik: When you met Khashoggi a week ago did he seem afraid for his life?

Kamel Hawwash: When I met Mr Khashoggi at the Middle East Monitor conference just over a week ago — I hadn’t met him before — we exchanged good wishes; I chaired actually the session that he spoke at when he was speaking about the Oslo accords and their failure.

And even in that, although he criticized the stance of the Saudis on what is called ‘the deal of the century’ he reported to the conference that the Saudi King had effectively taken back control of the issue related to Palestine and particularly about Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

And he advised the Palestinians to take hold of their own fate, but of course they would be supported by other countries.

Sputnik: Does Khashoggi really pose such a threat to the Saudi regime?

Kamel Hawwash: Well, Jamal Khashoggi has been in self-imposed exile for the last few months, he moved to the United States and has been writing for the Washington Post.

I think it was the fear that if he did had remained in the Kingdom he would either have to choose to be completely silent or if he did speak out he would face some danger.

Sputnik: If the reports are correct, and it was a state authorized killing, which would the Saudis want to risk further damaging relations with Turkey by carrying it in Turkey?

Kamel Hawwash: To be missing for a week having entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul having left 20 minutes later (according to the Saudis) raises lots of questions and people look back on a number of incidents when Saudi dissidents —fully fledged dissidents — have been arrested and taken back from different countries.

So we have to be careful about whether the man is alive or not but clearly until the Saudis themselves present evidence that he left in embassy in one piece, suspicions will continue to be that a week afterwards that something must have befallen the man otherwise why hasn’t he spoken out or been seen anywhere?

Sputnik: Is it time for Saudi Arabia to be held to account for its human rights abuses; should the ICC get involved?

Kamel Hawwash: Well I think even before we get that, clearly countries with very strong ties, relationships, that call themselves allies of Saudi Arabia have a role to play, especially the United States, the United Kingdom; countries that supply Saudi Arabia with weapons that are being used in the war in Yemen, for example, should be calling the ambassadors and asking for absolute clarity about what has happened to Khashoggi and different countries can then take their own action.

And that would be much more immediate in my view than taking something to the ICC which would take quite a long time to materialize. So I do think that…But we know that whether it’s the United States or the United Kingdom or other countries who have been continuing to sell weapons to the Saudis despite clear atrocities which have been committed — including for example a bus in which 50 children were killed by a bombing — but there have been, they have not taken the right action in terms of saying ‘we will stop supplying arms to Saudi Arabia because of this’. So the chances of them doing something for one individual — unfortunately there don’t seem to be strong chances that they will.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Kamel Hawwash and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

مؤتمر حزب المحافظين البريطاني في مدينة بيرمنغهام وموضوع الخروج من الإتحاد الاوروبي، البريكسيت

برنامج العربي اليوم على قناة العربي بتاريخ ٣٠/٩/٢٠١٨

https://youtu.be/io0tKdFq-98

Labour’s anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

First published by the New Arab on 7/9/2018

Labour's anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

Protesters lobbied Labour’s NEC members as they arrived to decide on the new definition [Getty]

The UK’s Labour party has been embroiled in a controversy over anti-Semitism, which broke soon after the socialist candidate for the party’s leadership, Jeremy Corbyn, won the contest.

There was no immediate accusation that he had ever harboured any dislike, let alone hatred for Jews. Corbyn is acknowledged to be a lifelong campaigner for human rights, who has defied his party on several occasions and voted against Tony Blair’s decision to sanction the war on Iraq in early 2003.

Corbyn has supported the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality for decades, leading many marches and speaking at numerous rallies, with passion, but never blaming British Jews for the actions of modern-day Israel. He also hosted many meetings in parliament, helping raise the Palestinian issue at the heart of Britain’s democracy.

He saw the comparisons between Israeli discriminatory policies and those of the Apartheid system which operated in South Africa. There too was a campaign of which he was a part until Apartheid fell, being arrested in the process in 1984. He was a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign prior to his election and has notably maintained that role.

At the heart of the current row in the party are accusations against Corbyn of not taking the issue of anti-Semitism seriously, an issue which was never raised as a major problem in the party before his election to the leadership.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand… to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism

The accusations have been led by UK organisations which claim to represent the Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), but which also have a record of unwavering support for Israel. In addition, two pro-Israel organisations within the Labour Party – namely Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – have also taken up the fight against Corbyn.

The LFI was the subject of an undercover Al Jazeera investigation which showed it worked closely with the Israeli embassy in London.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand by pro-Israel organisations for public bodies, including political parties, governments and city councils to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism, produced by the 31-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which launched in 2016 as a non-legally bindingworking definition of anti-Semitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

While experts argued over those 38 words, it was the next part of the document that caused heated arguments among both supporters of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian people.

“To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
 
Manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

This was followed by 11 illustrative examples, seven of which made reference to Israel. Two in particular raised major concerns about their impact on freedom of expression and the freedom for Palestinians to impart facts about their continuing injustice and how they and their supporters might act to deliver justice 71 years after Israel’s creation in their homeland through violent ethnic cleansing and terror.

Palestinians identified grave dangers in the example which claimed,“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” would be anti-Semitic.

For Palestinians it is clear that Israel was created as a homeland for Jews from any part of the world to move to, while 750,000 were violently expelled to neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes despite the UN passing resolution 194 in 1948 recognising their right to return peacefully.

They see the creation of this Israel as a racist endeavour but the application of the definition appears to be designed to label any Palestinian or supporter who wishes to impart this information to fellow citizens as an anti-Semite.

This danger was illustrated clearly by Joan Ryan, Chair of LFI, who wrote to Jeremy Corbyn in June asking him to clarify a tweet in which he said: “We must work for a real two state settlement to the Israel Palestine conflict, which ends the occupation and siege of Gaza and makes the Palestinian right to return a reality.”

Her argument was that the realisation of the Palestinian right of return “…would effectively turn Israel into a Palestinian state and destroy the Jewish people’s right to self-determination”. Palestinians claiming their legitimate right to return to their homes becomes an anti-Semitic demand, according to Ryan, based on the IHRA code.

The other example given by the IHRA which supporters of Israel will use to close down debate is one which states that “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Israel often claims that it is singled out for criticism and that this is done essentially because it is the only Jewish state in the world. This essentially relates to support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against it until meets legal and moral demands for an end to the occupation, equal treatment for all of its citizens and the promotion and implementation of the right of return.

It is of course difficult to find another state which has been in continuous occupation of another people for more than 51 years, which denies the refugees it expelled the right of return, which builds illegally on another people’s land and has just passed a law (the Nation State Law) which gives one part of its population a right to self-determination but denies this to any others.

While the Labour Party considered adopting the 38-word IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it also developed a code for dealing with any accusations that might come against members, which attempted to contextualise the examples in the definition and to protect free speech.

The pro-Israel community organisations in the UK were outraged that Labour had not simply adopted the IHRA definition with all 11 illustrative examples, arguing that the definition still made it possible to criticise Israel. They exerted severe pressure on the party and led what many of Corbyn’s supporters have described as a campaign to discredit him, which moved from accusing him from failing to deal with anti-Semitism to being an anti-Semite and racist himself.

Under mounting pressure and despite consulting with both Jewish and non-Jewish organisations including Palestinian organisations, and despite an opinion given by leading barrister Geoffrey Robinson QC – in which he claimed the IHRA definition was “not fit for purpose” – the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee adopted the full definition with the illustrative examples. A party spokesperson said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”

Corbyn had argued, “It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

However, there was insufficient support for this part of his longer statement and it was not put to a vote.

While this was a matter for the Labour Party, other public bodies will now be under pressure to adopt the IHRA definition under pressure from Britain’s Israel lobby. Protecting Israel from criticism and silencing Palestinian voices is at the heart of the campaign by the lobby for the adoption of the problematic definition.

In a letter to The Guardian published before the vote, Palestinians had argued that, “The fundamental right to free expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Human Rights Act, is first and foremost the right to ‘receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority’.”

They warned “any use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on anti-Semitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.”

That warning still stands, as it is inevitable that the pro-Israel lobby will now move to bring accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour members, citing the IHRA definition while working to pressure all public bodies to adopt it. However, what is important for Palestinians is that their supporters, who have been deflected from their campaigning work to try and influence Labour’s NEC, now refocus the effort on campaigning for the cause, particularly as US President Donald Trump’s administration works to impose a “deal of the century” that negates their rights.

 

Debate on British Palestinians’ letter to the Guardian on their right to freedom of speech

I joined a debate on RT UK on this letter in the Guardian which I signed on 1/8/2018