The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Israeli Discrimination against Palestinian Americans and the Visa Waiver Program

As a Palestinian-American I know the stress of facing unjust interrogation when I travel through Israel. This discrimination should disqualify Israel from joining the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.



As a Palestinian-American, I have dealt with the stress of traveling in and out of Israel and facing unjust interrogation just because I am Palestinian. My story is not unique – every Palestinian has a similar story of how Israeli security officers treat us at the ports of entry and checkpoints we travel through. However, our experiences are now taking on an added weight as Israel vies to join the U.S. Visa Waiver program. Instead of just being a personal trial, the highly discriminatory treatment Palestinian Americans, Arab Americans, Muslims, and their allies face is taking on contentious geopolitical significance.

A facet that makes my story a little different from other stories is that I have an Israeli passport. I only get stopped on the way out of Tel Aviv and only when I am alone. When I travel with my family, they never stop me, so my experiences with the “special” security are few as I only recently started traveling out of Israel alone. I know Palestinian Americans who get detained on the way in, but my Israeli passport helps me avoid speaking to any security officers when I enter Tel Aviv.

My typical encounter looks something like this:

When I get to the initial security officer, I give them both my American and Israeli passports – and that is when the harassment starts. I am not sure how it works for other Palestinians, but my name pings me as someone who needs to be searched by hand. My name is not particularly Arab nor Muslim, in fact, my name is a fresh-off-the-boat misspelling from when my dad landed in the U.S. in the 1980s. It does not read as anything that they would consider “dangerous.” It is just me that they want to stop. They scan my passport and then talk to their managers to determine why it raised alarms. After that, they put a special sticker on my passport that lets every security personnel I pass by know that I am going straight to hand search, and they all wave me off to the end of the line, where I end up in the closed-off room for weird intricate rituals of putting a laptop through a machine five times just to realize it is in fact a normal laptop.

The only thing about this process that gets to me now that I know it will happen every time I travel is that they confiscate my passports during the interrogation. I do not appreciate anyone else having even temporary possession of my passports. In these secluded areas in the airport, there are almost always only Palestinians. One time there was a nun (I assume she was a Palestinian nun) getting hand-searched by airport security, which felt absolutely ridiculous to me. Let her see whatever fancy European church she’s off to in peace.

Journalists and photographers from Gaza continue to expose ourselves to danger because we believe that Gazans’ stories must be shared with the world in their voice, not distorted by journalists from foreign press.

I understand why they do it too. They want to make Palestinian lives so difficult on the way out of Israel, so they do not return. At the end of the day, it is in the state’s best interest to have as few Palestinians anywhere in the region as possible. Palestinian Americans are an easy target. We know a better life than the one provided for us in the region, whether that is under occupation or as second-class citizens within the Green Line. In the U.S., we are provided a reprieve from the oppressive forces that are hyper-focused on making our lives as difficult as possible. Whatever oppression or discrimination we face in the U.S. will never compare to being Palestinian on the ground. If the last point of contact with Israel and Palestine is one that is unpleasant, invasive, and nerve-wracking, it will make the next trip daunting and remind us of the hostile and unwelcoming environment waiting for us.

Even with Israel claiming they will be less discriminatory toward Palestinian Americans at ports and checkpoints, the U.S. should still not allow Israel to enter the Visa Waiver Program without solid proof. My belief is based firmly on the shared experiences of Palestinian Americans, including myself and my family. This belief also comes with conflicting emotions, as the visa waiver would make it easier for me to see my extended family, all of whom are Israeli passport holders. They would not have to go through the process of applying for a visa, which feels daunting and includes a six-month wait if it is approved. As much as I would love to bring my family on trips to the U.S., at the end of the day, not even being an Israeli national will stop the state from harassing Palestinian Americans – and that should be reason enough for the U.S. to deny Israel the visa waiver.





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