the Jerusalem Post has reported in recent days that American Palestinians will be allowed to land at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport en route to the West Bank, rather than being forced to cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. Israel is proposing to make this change in its treatment of American Palestinians in order to join the US visa waiver program.
If Israel is successful, its citizens will be able to travel to the United States without needing a visa. It is a privileged position that Israel has sought since the inception of the program.
One of the main reasons why this status has not been achieved, despite continued pressure from Israel’s supporters in Washington, is that every country that joins the program must guarantee reciprocity; that is, by ensuring that all Americans are treated without discrimination, since the United States agrees to do the same with the citizens of the other country. There is clear evidence of the decades-long mistreatment by Israel of American citizens of Arab descent who surrendered to the self-proclaimed Jewish state.
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the Jerusalem Post history has mentioned that Israel is ready to meet at least some of the American demands, but this Israeli decision is questionable and totally insufficient. This is suspect, because in 2014, the last time Israel lobbied to join the program, Haaretz published an article titled “Israel in the United States: We will soften the stance on Palestinians-Americans, if we join the visa waiver program.”
At the time, the Israelis criticized the Oslo Accords for refusing to allow American Palestinians to go to Ben-Gurion Airport, claiming that the condition of crossing the Allenby Bridge was based on respecting the agreements and l ‘Palestinian Authority. However, such a clause does not exist in the Oslo accords. Seven years later, they haven’t made any adjustments, and the promised Israeli measure is not enough at all. It is true that the ability of American Palestinians to reach Israel is important, but it is only one of many important issues related to Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians and other American Arabs. Even more troubling is Israel’s treatment of American Arabs upon entering, whether at the airport or on the bridge.
Individuals suspected of being of Arab descent are often automatically subjected to scrutiny, which includes hours of harsh questioning and extracting information from their phones and laptops. This applies not only to American Palestinians, but also to anyone who holds a Palestinian ID card; they all receive such treatment, and not just at the entrance. We have witnessed statements from hundreds of Arab Americans who have reported mistreatment entering and leaving Israel. The US State Department took no action despite being made aware of the reports, and only issued “Travel Advisories” advising Arab Americans to expect discriminatory treatment.
When victims of these abuses called the US consulate in Jerusalem for help, they were told, “There is nothing we can do. It is true that a number of US foreign ministers have raised this issue with the Israeli government, but “raising the issue” is apparently not enough as the mistreatment continues. This is not just a visa waiver; it is also the failure of the US government to take seriously its obligation to protect the rights of its citizens. The US passport reads: “The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests that all concerned to allow the citizen / United States national named here to pass without delay or hindrance and, when needed, to give all help and protection. “
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The 1951 Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the United States and Israel allows American citizens traveling to Israel to “travel freely and reside in places of their choice.” The treaty also prohibits Israel from engaging in “unlawful aggression of any kind” and stipulates that citizens “receive the most constant protection and security, in no way inferior to that required by international law.”
Regardless of the visa waiver program, protecting the rights of U.S. citizens should not be the subject of discussions or negotiations between the U.S. government and any other country. Hollow gestures such as allowing American Palestinians to land at Ben-Gurion Airport do not relieve the United States government or Israel of the obligation to fulfill their obligations.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Ittihad January 9, 2021
The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.