1-2-3, many Chomskys

May 18, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Interior Ministry, meanwhile, says “every case stands alone.”

There are a million reasons why someone would be denied entry into Israel,” Interior Ministry Spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said on Monday in response to questions on the ministry’s border policies following its refusal to grant American professor Noam Chomsky entry to the West Bank on Sunday. “Every case stands alone and every individual who is denied entry is denied for different reasons.”

Sunday saw a flurry of news coverage, both local and international, of Israel’s denial of the MIT linguistics professor’s entrance to the West Bank from Jordan, on his way to a lecture at Bir Zeit University. The rejection of Chomsky, a longtime vocal critic of Israeli and United States policies, was seen by many as an Israeli attempt to stop him from expressing his opinions. But Chomsky is not alone. According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, left-wingers are denied entrance to Israel on a regular basis.

Hadad spent the day fielding reporters’ calls attempting to provide explanations for the decision. Yesterday she told The Jerusalem Post that the initial decision to deny Chomsky entry was due to a “misunderstanding,” and denied claims that Chomsky’s name was on a blacklist of individuals prohibited from entering the country.

She also confirmed he had been questioned for a number of hours before being denied entry by the Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Border Authority.

Later she said that since Chomsky was entering the West Bank, the decision to approve or deny his entrance was up to the IDF’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories. COGAT said Monday that they had not received an official request on the matter and when they did receive such a request it would be assessed according to the regulations.

“There may be a million reasons, but try to find a single criterion for entry refusal and you’ll hit a blank wall,” said Oded Feller, an attorney for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. “Dozens of people are refused entry to Israel every week and I’m sure that the Interior Ministry has great reasons for every refusal, but if you try to discern what the regulations that guide the decision to grant or refuse an individual’s entry to Israel are, you won’t find them. The interior Ministry simply doesn’t publish them, this despite a court ruling that ordered them to do so.”

Feller said that while cases like Chomsky’s grab the public’s attention because of his reputation and stature, the reality is that Israel denies entry to people who hold similar beliefs and opinions as a matter of fact. “Chomsky made headlines because of his fame, but foreign human rights activists, peace activists, political leaders, not to mention Palestinians and their relatives, are denied entry on a regular basis.”

Danish student and peace activist Rikke Gram was denied entrance to Israel in the beginning of April. Gram who studied history at the university of Haifa and later completed an internship at The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, was detained in Ben Gurion’s holding facility for three days after being denied entrance and then flown back to her home country.

Gram said she was told that she was denied entrance and blacklisted from reentering Israel for five years because she lied to security officials about having visited the West Bank and about knowing Palestinians.

In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Gram said that she was very angry about the decision to deny her entrance. “I don’t understand the whole thing about me lying. In the end I told them everything and apologized for lying. Is that reason enough to deport me?” she asked.

Gram said that throughout her months-long stay in Israel she never engaged in political activism and attended one demonstration against house demolitions with a group of Israeli friends from university. She said the reason she felt she had to lie, was because Israeli friends told her that if she told the truth about her Palestinian acquaintances, Israel wouldn’t let her in.

“It’s very hurtful that they treat people this way,” said Gram. She said it was humiliating to have to wait for 14 hours at the airport before being denied entry and then being held for three days in a detention center before being sent back.

“I am aware of the need for security and respect it, but I believe that doing this, Israel is not making things easier for itself.”

Gram said that while in the holding center, she met with two Norwegian women who had experienced the same treatment.

“The truth is that without a permanent presence at all border crossing there is no way of knowing precisely how many people are denied and for what reasons,” said Feller. “What we do know is that in December 2007, the Jerusalem District Court handed down an order that the Interior Ministry publish all of its regulations and that the ministry has yet to do so.”

The court order was the result of repeated and unsuccessful attempts by ACRI and other human rights groups to gain access to see the Interior Ministry’s regulations and working procedures, among them those that determined the criteria for accepting or rejecting entrance of foreign nationals.