He got into Harvard. And now he finally got into the United States.


Ismail Ajjawi, a Harvard freshman who said he was was denied U.S. entry because of his friends’ social media postings, arrived in Boston in time for the start of classes. He is pictured in his home near the El Buss refugee camp in Lebanon. (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)

JAWEED KALEEM, Los Angeles Times, SEP. 3, 2019

A Palestinian student who flew to Boston last month to attend Harvard but was a denied entry to the United States has been allowed into the country in time for the start of classes this week, the university said.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, was at the center of an uproar involving top Harvard officials, immigrant advocates, international student organizations and thousands of student petitioners after the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that immigration officials held him on Aug. 23 at Logan International Airport while combing through his social media accounts before canceling his visa.

The incident underscored concerns at Harvard and other universities over the ability of international students and scholars to enter the country as the Trump administration curtails legal immigration.

In a welcome letter Tuesday to students, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow highlighted immigration barriers for students.

“Since May, the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process have only grown,” he wrote. “Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security, and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

Ajjawi was a top student in Lebanon, where lived as a refugee outside the southern city of Tyre and attended United Nations schools. He received a scholarship from an international nonprofit to attend Harvard, where he planned to study physical and chemical biology en route to becoming a surgeon.

He was allowed into to the U.S. on Monday after he “overcamve all grounds of inadmissibility,” a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The spokesman did not answer a question about what had changed. Previously, immigration officials had said that Ajjawi “was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

His family released a statement through its attorney, describing his experience as “difficult and anxiety-filled.”

“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies,” it said.

He arrived on campus just in time for his class photo, said the attorney, Albert Mokhiber.

Theodore Kattouf, president of Amideast, the nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi his scholarship, released a statement saying that he was “pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all.”

“Ismail is a bright young man whose hard work, intelligence and drive enabled him to overcome the challenges that Palestinian refugee youth continue to face in order to earn a scholarship,” it said.

Ajjawi did not reply to Facebook messages seeking comment.

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Harvard freshman denied entry at Logan Airport by immigration officials

Posts by friends on social media were critical of the United States

Deirdre Fernandes, Boston Globe, August 27, 2019

A 17-year-old Palestinian student en route to Harvard University to begin his freshman year was denied entry to the United States at Logan Airport last weekend, heightening fears that the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policy is making it harder for international students to come to study.

The student, Ismail Ajjawi, lives in Lebanon and had a valid visa to study in the United States, but upon his arrival at Logan he was questioned by immigration officials and then sent on a flight back home, according to officials with Amideast, an international education nonprofit that administers the Hope Fund scholarship
the student received to help him attend Harvard.

Ajjawi was reportedly denied entry over political posts his friends made on social media that were critical of the United States.

The case has drawn anger and concern about the increased scrutiny facing the thousands of international students who flood US campuses, particularly those in the Boston area, every fall.

“It’s so counterproductive to American interests to close the doors to kids like this,” said Geraldine Brooks, the novelist, who was involved with the Hope Fund in its earliest days, nearly 20 years ago.

The more than a dozen freshmen who have come through the Hope Fund annually have studied through the shelling of their neighborhoods and had their schooling disrupted for long stretches, but they see a US degree as a path forward. One went to work for NASA, others have become engineers and educators, and one is a Rhodes Scholar, Brooks said.

“This is an indicator of a serious and dark problem happening unseen in back rooms of our airports,” Brooks said. Ajjawi is fortunate to be going to Harvard, an institution that has the resources and network to help him try and resolve the problem, she said.

“I’m completely outraged and so concerned about the kids who aren’t trying to get to clout-rich institutions,” Brooks said.

PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free expression issues, called the decision to send Ajjawi back “perverse.”

“The idea that Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming; that he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless,” Summer Lopez, senior director of the organization, said in a statement.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said the student was deemed inadmissible and his visa was canceled.

US Customs and Border Protection has several layers of review and approval before officials deny someone admission into the country, said Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the agency.

“CBP is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the United States,” he said in a statement.

Ajjawi, who grew up in a refugee camp, is one of more than a dozen freshmen participating in the Hope Fund. These Palestinian students attend US institutions such as Stanford University and Smith College.

Ted Kattouf, a former US ambassador and the president of Amideast, declined to comment about Ajjawi’s case.

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Why some Palestinians are backing Trump’s peace push

A growing number of Palestinians want a ‘one state, equal rights’ model and think Trump may unwittingly pave the way for it.


Palestinian youths climb a section of Israel’s wall near the West Bank. | Abbas Momani/Getty Images

NAHAL TOOSI, POLITICO, 05/21/2019

Some prominent Palestinian activists and politicians are quietly rooting for Jared Kushner as he prepares to unveil the first part of his Middle East peace plan next month.

That’s not because they think the plan will resolve their decadeslong conflict with Israel. It’s because they hope it will hasten the onset of a “one-state” solution they are coming to support.

The push for one state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis has gained steam in recent years as the Trump administration has been preparing its peace plan, which Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, is expected to unveil at a June conference in Bahrain. Kushner has signaled that his plan abandons America’s decadeslong official support for a “two-state solution,” in which the Palestinians are given a sovereign nation of their own.

Many Palestinian supporters of a single state — whose ranks now include Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian-American — wouldn’t necessarily mind seeing the creation of two independent, full-fledged states in the region. But they don’t consider that outcome realistic, nor do they believe that the international community ever truly backed the idea.

Some argue that due to Israeli actions on the ground, including the construction of settlements in the West Bank, Palestinians already live in a de facto single state, but one in which they lack the same rights as Israeli Jews. Many liken the situation to apartheid South Africa and say Trump’s policies are simply exposing that reality.

“Trump is now not only burying the two-state solution, which was not viable anyway, but he’s gladly dancing on its grave, thus forcing people to end their denial,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “It’s important for us to respond very clearly that we need equal rights in one state.”

Surrendering the fight for two states could mean short-term pain for Palestinians, one-staters admit. But they hope to draw the world’s attention over time to the implications of one Israeli state in which Palestinians lack full voting and freedom-of-movement rights, bolstering their demands for one state with equal rights for all citizens.

The push for one state with equal rights is also fueled by a series of other strongly pro-Israel actions by Trump, including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite its contested status. If the Palestinians are not given sovereignty, an Israel that absorbs millions of them indefinitely may ultimately be forced to choose between its democratic character and its Jewish identity — especially if demographic growth favors Palestinians.

“I don’t think it’s the intention of Mr. Trump to help Palestinians, but indirectly I think it is [helping]," said Hamada Jaber of the One State Foundation, an organization that launched last year to argue that a single state is actually in the Palestinians’ interest. “There is no two-state solution. It’s pushing us as Palestinians to think about an alternative.”

The growing calls among far left Palestinians and other advocates for “one state, equal rights” comes as Israeli and Palestinian officials acknowledge that the decadeslong efforts at achieving a political solution has stalled, and that the two sides’ respective positions on issues like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees may be irreconcilable.

Even so, many close observers of the conflict say, a one state, equal rights approach may prove an even more impractical goal.

“It’s not a real-world solution,” insisted Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of J Street, the left-leaning Jewish advocacy group that supports the two-state model. “It may sound nice in an academic hall. In a real world, this is not going to become one democratic state with equal rights.”

Israeli politicians won’t stand for an outcome in which they could lose political power, critics of the one-state idea say. Then there’s the fact that Palestinian leaders still say they want two separate states. Tensions between Palestinians and Israelis run so deep, some two-staters argue, that they could not coexist peacefully under one government.

Israeli leaders have long blamed the lack of progress in past peace talks on Palestinians, saying they’ve repeatedly refused generous offers that would have helped them create their own state while supporting violence against Israel. The militant group Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip — from which it launches attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians — hasn’t helped inspire Israeli confidence in a potential peace deal.

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I co-founded the BDS movement. Why was I denied entry to the US?

With this denial of entry, Israel appears to have once again enlisted the Trump administration to do its bidding


“Palestinians are now helplessly anticipating a far-right Israeli tsunami that will wipe out whatever rights we have left.” (Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP)

Omar Barghouti, The Guardian, 16 Apr 2019

Last Wednesday, as I was preparing to depart for the United States for a series of speaking engagements, I was abruptly stopped and prevented from boarding my flight at Ben Gurion airport. The US consulate informed the airline staff that US immigration has banned me from entering the country, despite having a valid visa, without providing a reason.

Given my regular, unhindered travel to the US for years, this ban seems to be an ideologically and politically motivated measure that fits in with Israel’s escalating repression against human rights defenders. Israel’s far-right regime is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, it is increasingly outsourcing its anti-democratic tactics to the US.

As a co-founder of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, I have been smeared by the Israeli government and banned from travel repeatedly, including in 2018 when I was prevented from going to Jordan to accompany my late mother during cancer surgery. Israel’s intelligence minister threatened me with “targeted civil elimination”, drawing condemnation from Amnesty International. Their de facto and “arbitrary travel ban” against me was recently lifted for three months after Amnesty International’s pressure.

On this US trip, I was scheduled to meet with policymakers and journalists and to address the critical need for cutting US complicity in Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights before audiences at New York University, Harvard, a black community bookstore in Philadelphia and the Tzedek Chicago synagogue. Afterwards, I was going to attend my daughter’s wedding in Houston.

I have decided not to miss any of my speaking engagements, joining via video in the middle of my nights, but I cannot possibly compensate the personal loss of missing my daughter’s wedding. I am hurt, but I am far from deterred.

Since Trump took office, he has repeatedly signaled his deep bias in favor of Israel. His Middle East team, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, with their fervent support for Israel’s illegal settlements and other crimes, must be the most dishonest broker in the history of US “peacemaking”. He has recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights in violation of international law and more than seven decades of official US policy.

Meanwhile, members of Congress and politicians in 27 states have passed laws intended to suppress the voices of Americans who support BDS. The ACLU has condemned these repressive measures as an unconstitutional violation of free speech that is “reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths”.

All of this has emboldened Israel’s hardline rightwing government to accelerate its racist, oppressive policies towards the Palestinian people. Over the last year, Israeli soldiers have massacred hundreds and injured thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters demanding refugee rights and freedom from the open-air prison that Israel has turned Gaza into.

Last summer, Israel’s parliament passed the so-called “Jewish nation-state” law, which constitutionally enshrines an apartheid reality that has existed for many years. And Israel’s government has buried the so-called two-state solution by continuing its relentless theft of Palestinian land for illegal settlements, while at the same time increasing pressure on human rights defenders, particularly BDS advocates.

During the recent election campaign, Netanyahu promised to begin annexing the West Bank and repeatedly incited against Palestinian citizens of Israel, declaring, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens … Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.” He will now likely form a government even more extreme and intransigent than the last, which was the most racist in Israel’s history.

Some Palestinians are now helplessly anticipating a far-right Israeli tsunami that will wipe out whatever rights we have left, but many are intensifying popular resistance, including BDS, calling for impactful solidarity and ending international complicity.

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid and the US civil rights movements, BDS calls for cultural, economic and political pressure on Israel to end its military rule over Palestinian and Syrian territories occupied since 1967, grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognize the UN-stipulated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin, a universal right that applies to all refugees. It is supported by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian society.

Americans have a long and honorable history of using boycotts for social, political and economic justice causes against the Montgomery Bus company, California grape growers, the states of North Carolina and Arizona over anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant laws, respectively, and now against Trump’s racist agenda. Similarly, Palestinians seek to use peaceful economic leverage to achieve our liberation.

With its inclusive, anti-racist principles, BDS rejects all forms of bigotry, and appeals to progressives everywhere. Its tactics have been adopted by a number of US mainline churches, student governments in tens of universities, academic associations and racial and social justice groups, who wish to avoid being complicit in the suffering of Palestinians.

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Ahmed Abu Artema on the Palestinian Great March of Return

“The only possible option for them is to continue knocking on the walls of their prison with the hope that the world will hear them.”


Ahmed Abu Artema has organized the Great March of Return in protest of Israel’s blockade on Gaza. (Hosney Salah)

Esty Dinur, The Progressive, April 11, 2019

Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian writer and activist. A resident of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, his family was expelled from its home in the Ramle district in 1948. A follower of nonviolent resistance, he is one of the main organizers of the Great March of Return, which has taken place every Friday for more than a year at the separation wall with Israel. A heavy-handed Israeli response has caused hundreds of Palestinian deaths and many more people injured.

A slight man with sad eyes, married and father of four, Abu Atrema was the featured speaker in a nationwide tour in March organized by the American Friends Service Committee and titled “Hashtag to Headlines: How the Gaza Great March of Return Challenged the World.”

I interviewed him recently for my radio show in Madison, Wisconsin, and followed up with emailed questions, which were translated from Arabic by Jehad Abusalim.

Q: What is the Great March of Return about?

Ahmed Abu Artema: The Great March of Return represents the clearest expression of the will of the displaced Palestinian refugees: They want to go home. In 1948, Zionist militias expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their cities and villages to pave the way for the establishment of the state of Israel. These forces believed that, with time, the refugees would adapt to the reality of refugeehood and would forget their homeland.

But the message of the Great March of Return clearly says that the Right of Return is to be negotiated, and that new generations of refugees who were born in the refugee camps in exile still adhere to their inalienable right to return to their homes and property.

Q: How did the march come into being and what has happened since?

Artema: A group of friends and I called for the March of Return twice. The first time was on May 15, 2011, when the call then was met by wide reaction. Thousands of Palestinians gathered near the boundaries of historic Palestine in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and near the green line in the West Bank and Gaza. That was the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the Catastrophe [the term used by Palestinians to describe their mass expulsion and the destruction of their society in 1948].

The second time we called for a march of return was in early 2018, when I proposed organizing a mass and peaceful march by the people of the Gaza Strip, to put an end to the blockade there—which has meant a slow death for us—and to call for the implementation of U.N, General Assembly Resolution 194, regarding Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their original homes.

The idea turned into a broad movement in the Palestinian society in Gaza, and it was adopted and promoted by various political and social groups. This led to the creation of an executive committee that represented all these forces, which took on itself to organize the practical steps of the demonstrations.

Q: What makes the march continue despite the large number of casualties?

Artema: The protests continue because people in Gaza can’t adapt to the reality of death and imprisonment. People in Gaza are dying slowly and painfully due to the brutality of the blockade and lack of hope. The only possible option for them is to continue knocking on the walls of their prison with the hope that the world will hear them.

Q: How has your life in Gaza changed since the start of the marches?

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April 22, 2019
71 Years Without a Country

The 2019 North America Nakba Tour comes to Madison

UW-Madison Red Gym, On Wisconsin room
716 Langdon St
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Mariam Fathalla was just 18 years old in 1948 when her 4,000 year old village was leveled and she was forced to flee Palestine along with hundreds of thousands of others to make way for the establishment of the State of Israel. For the past 71 years she has lived in crowded, makeshift refugee camps in Lebanon. Now an 89-year-old great-grandmother, she has seen five Israeli invasions of Lebanon, as well as the 1976 Tel al-Zaatar massacre that killed more than 2000 refugees.

Don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to hear Mariam’s eye-witness story and learn the true story of the event that Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe). She will be joined by 24-year-old Palestinian journalist and translator Amena ElAskhar, herself the great-granddaughter of Nakba survivors.

Co-sponsored by Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, and WUD Society and Politics. Welcomed by WORT Radio.



Amena ElAshkar will be a guest on WORT Radio’s Morning Buzz with host Jan Miyasaki on Wednesday, April 17 between 8 and 8:30 am. Tune in at 89.9 FM or listen live online.

Amena ElAshkar will be a guest on WORT Radio’s A Public Affair with host Esty Dinur on Friday, April 19 from 12:40 to 1:00 pm. Tune in at 89.9 FM or listen live online.


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