Israeli authorities have denied a re-entry visa to an American mother and wife who has lived in the West Bank for thirty years, leading Palestinian-American groups to challenge what they see as an ongoing discriminatory policy against them by the Israeli and American governments.

According to US officials, 45,000 US citizens of Palestinian origin are currently living or visiting in the West Bank.

Although the targeting of Palestinian-Americans by Israel is a fact officially acknowledged by the US State Department, the US government has taken no action to protect its citizens of Palestinian origin.

Enayeh Adel Samara is a US citizen, a Palestinian-American, whose husband is an American by marriage.  The two have resided for thirty years in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in the West Bank.  Due to the Israeli occupation and control of permits and visas, the couple has never been granted permanent residency in the Occupied Territories, but have been forced by Israeli to renew their visas every three months by going to the neighboring country of Jordan, applying at the Israeli embassy there, and then returning to Palestine – a complicated and time-consuming process.

Enayeh is the mother of two adult children, who both also live in Ramallah and have both married Palestinians.

Enayeh lives in Ramallah and is a business owner.  She runs a beauty salon in downtown Ramallah and was just about to open another one in the same city when all her life plans were disrupted by the Israeli government on May 20, 2006, when her last Israeli visa expired.

She left to Amman, Jordan, on May 23, 2006 to renew her visa from the Israeli embassy in the Jordanian capital. But when she came back to the West Bank on May 26, 2006, the Israeli immigration authorities at the Karamah (Allenby, King Hussein) Bridge would not let her through. They told her to get her husband apply to the Israeli Ministry of Interior to get her an entry visa.  According to her affidavit, Enayeh has always been strictly law-abiding, has no ‘security’ problems whatsoever, has engaged in no political activity, and has never over-stayed her Israeli residency permit, despite the inconvenience of renewing her visa every three months.

When her re-entry visa was denied, Enayeh’s husband filed a petition on her behalf with the U.S Consulate General in Jerusalem, a copy of which was obtained by the Palestine Media Center, appealing to the couple’s government for help.

In the petition, Adel cited an Israeli military order, issued in 1989, that provides for “special treatment” for foreign investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which, he said: “Goes with the international phenomenon of the encouraging Foreign Direct Investment FDI.”

“I am more than sure,” that Enayeh and many US citizens would have never married Palestinians “if they have been warned by the US Consulate that this form of marriage might cause some troubles,” Adel said in his petition.  “A strong and protected US community in the West Bank and Gaza is a good support for the US interests in the region,” he concluded.

Enayeh’s case is just one example among thousands of Palestinian Americans who have similar stories about being discriminated against by Israel, and unsupported by their own government.  Many are currently stranded in neighboring countries, not allowed to re-enter Palestine.

The Israeli immigration authorities at the Karamah Bridge have recently been denying entry to many elders, women and children who had left to Jordan to renew their visas as they used to do for years, the Jerusalem-based al-Quds Arabic daily reported on Sunday.

The Palestinian-American Society (PAS) told Al-Quds that many relatives of those who were denied entry had visited the society.

Palestinian-Americans sent the US Consulate in Jerusalem a memorandum protesting the Israeli measures, with copies to media and human rights organizations.  They requested protection also from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), reminding the authority that many of them came in as investors.

Immigration into Palestine is still processed by the Israeli Occupying Power in the Palestinian territories, which the Jewish state occupied in 1967. It should be processed by the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Americans say.

“I went in on May 27, 2006 to the Palestinian Interior Office in Ramallah asking for official forms” to apply for a visa for his wife, Enaye, Adel Samara told PMC. “They told me that there is no such form permit for U.S citizens.”

Denying entry to Palestinian-Americans is just one measure among many restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities.

Recently, Israeli authorities stopped the routine procedure of stamping visas into the passports of Palestinian Americans, or issuing the visa separately as they used to do for years — reminding them, as the Palestinian-American support groups point out, that they are Palestinians first, and Americans second — and are thus subject to the same ‘second-class citizenry’ that all Palestinians face.

Moreover, Israeli border authorities have begun a practice of writing the number of the Palestinian ID on the US passports of Palestinian Americans.

Recent arrivals of Palestinian Americans in Israel have reported insulting and degrading treatment, and intense, extended periods of interrogation that last from three hours to three days.

Palestinian American groups have accused Israel of circumventing US law by illegally creating categories based on country of origin and ethnicity of US citizens.  This is in direct contravention to the ‘Equal Protection clause’ in the US Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity or country of origin.

The Israeli practice of discriminating against Palestinian Americans because of their ethnicity is also contrary to international law, Israeli law and bilateral US-Israeli agreements that prohibit such dicrimination.

The US Administration officially acknowledges the Israeli restrictions, but has taken no action.  A travel warning by the US Department of State on Thursday, June 1, 2006, reads: “Palestinian Americans may be subject to special restrictions. Palestinian Americans are advised to read all sections of this sheet very carefully for special regulations that may affect their travel.”

The State Department advisory continues: “Occasionally, the Government of Israel has declined to admit individual American citizens or groups who have expressed sympathy with the Palestinian cause, sought to meet with Palestinian officials, or intended to travel to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Persons who, upon arrival, seek immigration court hearings to contest decisions that they not be permitted to enter Israel may be detained for prolonged periods while waiting for such hearings to be convened.”

“Bearers of Palestinian passports or identity numbers who have become naturalized United States citizens …are subject to restrictions on movement between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and within the West Bank and Gaza that are imposed by the Israeli Government on all Palestinians for security reasons,” the state department warned.

In the West Bank and Gaza, “Except during periods of heightened security restrictions, most U.S. citizens may enter and exit the West Bank on a U.S. passport, but only with an Israeli entry stamp placed in the passport at the port of entry. U.S. citizens who hold a Palestinian ID number or whom Israel considers to have residency status in the West Bank or Gaza are advised to please read the next section entitled ‘Palestinian Americans’ very carefully,” the travel warning added.

The travel warning cites some of the Israeli restrictions and violations of human rights:

“U.S. citizens arrested by the Israeli Security Police for security offenses, and U.S. citizens arrested in the West Bank or Gaza for criminal or security offenses may be prevented from communicating with lawyers, family members, or consular officers for lengthy periods. The U.S. Consulate General and the Embassy are often not notified of such arrests, or are not notified in a timely manner. Consular access to the arrested individual is frequently delayed. U.S. citizens have been subject to mistreatment during interrogation and pressured to sign statements in Hebrew that have not been translated. Under local law they may be detained for up to six months at a time without charges. Youths over the age of 14 have been detained and tried as adults. When access to a detained American citizen is denied or delayed, the U.S. Government formally protests the lack of consular access to the Israeli Government. The U.S. Government also will protest any mistreatment to the relevant authorities.”

No action has been taken by the US Government on Enayeh Samara’s, or any other Palestinian-American’s case, leading Palestinian-American groups to criticize their government’s inaction.

“It is strange that the US Administration officially gives in to Israeli discrimination among US citizens, dividing them into two categories,” said one Palestinian American.

“Singling out Palestinian-Americans out under a subtitle in an official US Government document”, proves the helplessness of the US Administration vis-à-vis its Israeli strategic ally, he added, declining to identify himself.

Other Palestinian Americans complained of “double-standards” in US policy in comparison with their Israeli-American compatriots.

Israeli-Americans are allowed residency in Israel — even in the illegal Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Israeli-Americans are allowed to serve in the Israeli military. But Palestinian Americans are not even allowed to send money home to their relatives in occupied Palestine.

Donating to a foreign army is illegal under US law, but a ‘special exception’ is made for Israel, and Americans are allowed to send donations to the Israeli army.  

On April 16, 2001, Dr. Hala Maksoud, President of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and Dr. James Zogby (AAI) visited Under Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Mr. Jacob Walles at the U.S. State Department in Washington.  They discussed the passport issue, the harassment of Arab Americans at Israeli ports of entry, and the Israeli policies of interrogation, detention and torture of Palestinian Americans.

Walles agreed to follow up with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to get him to raise the issue with the Israelis, but no such action was ever taken, and, according to Palestinian-American groups, the situation has gotten exceedingly worse since 2001.

As Hala Maksoud said "As Americans, we are extremely disturbed that the US allows the state of Israel to question US citizenship and decide who has the right to travel with US passports."

*this article was sourced from the Palestine Media Center