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Israel is under heavy criticism for detaining an American graduate student for over a week at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
On October 2nd, 22-year-old Lara Alqasem was barred from entering the country to attend Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. This was due her alleged participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel back in the U.S. According to the Washington Post, Alqasem has been confined to substandard living conditions with no form of entertainment until she can convince authorities that she won’t be a threat to Israel or Jewish populations.
“If Lara Alqasem will tomorrow in her own voice, not through all kinds of lawyers or statements that can be misconstrued, say that support for BDS is not legitimate and she regrets what she did, we will certainly reconsider our position,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan in a radio interview.
Many have been quick to denounce Israel’s government for how they have chosen to handle Alqasem’s case. Israeli politician Mossi Raz of Meretz presided over her hearing on the 11th, all but begging Erdan to free the girl. “Stop this circus, you are causing grave damage to Israel’s image,” he said. Lara’s mother, Karen Alqasem, expressed indignation at the treatment of her daughter. “She is being treated like a criminal, but she is not a criminal,” Alqasem told the Associated Press.
Part of Israel’s fear is due to the mild success of the grassroots boycott movement (BDS) led mainly by young, millennial Palestinians against the Jewish state. The organization, which began in 2005, aims to end what they see as Israel’s oppression of Palestinians by pressuring Israel to follow international law. The group puts the heat on Israel’s government by calling upon others to cut cultural, academic, and economic ties with the country.
Last year, Israel decreed that any foreigner who had publicly called for a boycott of Israel could be banned from entering the country (per Al Jazeera). This law has already singled out 20 activist groups that can be denied entry immediately, and 15 people have been blocked so far. Out of all boycott-related cases detained by the government, Alqasem’s has lasted the longest at more than 10 days. However, just because Alqasem is of Palestinian descent and was a former president of Students for Justice in Palestine (a BDS chapter based in the University of Florida), does not give Israelian officials the right to detain her for expressing her views.
It is a travesty that any young woman could be apprehended on ice thin charges and held in such a dehumanizing manner. Participating in a peaceful protest against a country’s ideals and practices is no reason to deny someone entry. And removing all opposing ideology from a nation is a dangerous, reckless act.
While the United States Embassy was able to ensure that Alqasem was receiving proper food and water, Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman has said that “ultimately, it is up to the government of Israel to decide who it wants to let into the country.” The lengths Israel has gone to in order to keep out dissent makes it clear that the country is corrupt and in need of correction. Between interrogating and detaining Jewish critics, and not allowing a girl to enter the country because of a school club, something needs to change.
Peace isn’t achieved by silencing the boisterous and locking up those who have strong opinions. Peace is won by listening to people and their anger and addressing it head-on. One nation can’t kill an idea by throwing it in a cell or telling people not to believe in it. A movement can’t be squashed underfoot an oppressive regime.