Activists Pushing for Divestment from Israel Face Travel Risks, Deportation

Civil Rights

On July 17, 2016, a group of American human rights delegates were deported from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. This was a predecessor to a move by the apartheid nation to remove all Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists


In August, a new Israeli government task force was formed to deport  all BDS activists in the country.


"Deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot. If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists' home countries," stated Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee.


“As a human rights attorney in the US, I am outraged by this level of blatant discrimination. Working on human rights and criminal defense in the US, I see these patterns of discrimination in my work every day, where US police officers and security personnel routinely train with and share tactics and profiling systems with Israel. The deportation of a majority Muslim and people of color group is an example of how Israel engages in Islamophobia and racism, and silences debate by preventing the world from hearing the testimony of those who bear witness to the plight of Palestinians,” says Bina Ahmad.


Ahmad, is an attorney  from Manhattan where she has worked for the past 11 years as public defender. Her focus has been international human rights work and animal right law. She was one of the key legal adviser during the New York session of the Russell Tribunal.


She is a long time Palestinian supporter. “I worked during law school in Al Haq in Ramallah,” says Ahmed. She also worked at the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, which is an independent, human rights non-profit organization.


Ahmed  lived in the West Bank in 2004 and revisited the area in 2005. “I have always travelled through Tel Aviv, except the first time I went, we entered through the Egyptian border through a bus. Every other time I have entered through Tel Aviv.”

Monitored from D.C. to Ethiopia, Ahmed went through special security.  “I was picked for secondary security clearance of my name before I could even get a boarding pass,” she shares.


Flying through Ethiopia, Ahmed was made to go through three separate security checkpoints there. “Israel has additional agents in several world countries,” she shares. “This [one] checkpoint seemed to be set up especially set up for the delegation. All the people with Muslims names or who looked Muslim were brought through this checkpoint.”



She says her legal and political life became more  public and prominent since the last time she travelled and the internet is wider tool that is used to monitor activists. “Israel is increasing surveillance on people of color, Muslims and activists. The treatment is getting harsher. Israeli power only grows and so do  the rates of denial of entry,” says Ahmed. 


Ramah Kudaimi is a Syrian-American who is active in American Muslim spaces. She was travelling with an indigenous and people of color delegation including immigration rights activists, Black Lives Matter activists, focused on the reemergence movement for black liberation in the country.


“People are becoming politically aware. Palestine is taking center stage and this progressive cause too touchy of an issue for many liberal activists. Palestine needs to be put in the center. Palestinian liberation is connected to the liberation of the Black people,” she elaborated. 


“I was expecting a hard time getting in; I didn’t let myself get excited about getting in. I went through Jordan, [knowing] that I was going to be interrogated on the bridge. I chose not to go through the airport, as i would be deported back to the U.S., with the bus [route] I just get to go back Jordan,” says Kudaimi, knowing that she was visibly Muslim. “I chose the bridge, thinking where am I going to get treated better. People have to take this into consideration. That is not what you have to do when you are traveling to a place that calls itself the beacon of western civilization in Israel,” says Kudaimi.


"The woman interrogating me called me a terrorist in the main waiting area ... where there were plenty of people around, accusing me of coming to do bombings and threatening to tell the U.S. government this," said Ramah Kudaimi, Director of Grassroots Organizing, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. 


Ahmed describes a harrowing experience when she landed Tel Aviv. 


After being interrogated and jailed in a ‘filthy deportation center cell without water’,  she was deported back to the United States along with 4 other activists. Some were barred from entering Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories for the next 10 years.


Deplaned in Ethiopia, without a boarding pass or her passport, Ahmed was terrified. “Ethiopian Airlines and the Israeli government pulled my ticket. My family and friends were frantically calling the U.S. embassy!” she says. In the end she was charged $2200 for a one way ticket to - stiffed by the Israeli government.


The United states and Israel have a visa waiver. “You get the visa at the border, this was a violation of the visa waiver program,” says the public defender. 


As activists reached out the the United States Consulate, “some officials made comments indicating they had no power over the treatment of U.S. citizens held at the airport despite visa agreements between Israel and the United States,” reads a statement. 


Kudaimi has been banned for five years. “The US government is an active partner in Israel's war crimes against Palestinians, providing billions in military aid every year,”she says. “Our experience traveling to witness the reality of life for Palestinians is proof once again that both countries are plagued with institutionalized racism, Islamophobia, and militarism."


“My tax dollars are used in Israel and my government can’t do anything about it,” says Kudaimi. 


“Any person giving taxes – you are complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian people. It is essential that Americans take action locally and be in the struggle of the Palestinians. You are complicit in the oppression. You have a more direct role than other people aboard,” she emphasized.