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US student barred from entering Israel

The case of a US student with a study visa to enter Israel has risen to the country’s Supreme Court, after she was detained for allegedly participating in “activities and actions against the State of Israel,” referring to her membership of BDS groups.

Students and organisations in Israel have protested Alqasem's detention. Photo: www.standing-together.org

The Supreme Court will rule on whether or not the detention is legal

Lara Alqasem, who was born in Florida to a father of Palestinian heritage, had been accepted to study at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and had obtained a valid student visa from the Israeli mission in Florida. However, upon landing at Ben-Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv, she was detained.

“To deport her undermines the efforts of the Israeli academy to attract students international programs”

According to Alqasem’s mother, who spoke to US media, Lara was questioned about her father and the origin of her surname. However, since her detention, the Israeli minister for Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan publicly accused Alqasem of leading a chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine, which he referred to as “extreme”, “hate-filled”, and “violent”.

Alqasem said she had relinquished any BDS views, and stopped activities which the Israeli Knesset made a law against in 2017.

One court in Tel Aviv has already rejected Alqasem’s appeal, ruling her detention legal.

But the Supreme Court will debate her case on Wednesday, and decide whether or not she can officially file her appeal to the nation’s highest court. Prime minister Netanyahu supported this course of action, defending his nation’s right to accept or deny visitors at its own discretion.

“Every country and every democracy has arrangements regarding who can enter and who cannot,” Haaretz reported him saying. “The court is… examining it, and they’ll decide whether to let her appeal the decision. If they don’t let her appeal, she has to be deported,” Neanyahu continued.

Meanwhile, many in Israel are protesting what they judge to be a heavy-handed approach.

Nadav Bigelman is a student at The Hebrew University, and a leader of the Standing Together movement; which organises social justice campaigns with support from both Jews and Arabs.

“The government aims to silence all those who support Israeli-Palestinian peace and stand up to Netanyahu’s policies. We are Jewish and Arab students and faculty, and we raise our voices against the deportation of Alqasem,” he told The PIE News.

Even the university itself protested against the decision.

“We believe that the decision of the ministers… to deport her from Israel is wrong and does not advance the struggle against BDS. On the contrary, it undermines the efforts of Israeli academy to attract foreign students and researchers to international programs.

“The government has allocated millions of shekels to encourage international programs and research designed to advance the public interest and strengthen the image of the State of Israel in the world. The policy in question goes against this objective,” the institution said in a statement.

The student is still being held at Ben-Gurion Airport, though Israel insists she would be allowed to return home if she wished to. At two weeks, this is the longest detention due to BDS activity, according to the AP.

 

Update: The Supreme Court has ruled that Alqasem be released and allowed to begin her studies in Jerusalem, despite continuing protests from politicians. 

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