Lara Alqasem entering Israel after an intervention by the Israeli Supreme Court.
I doubt that when Lara Alqasem boarded the plane in America she knew how much attention her arrival in Israel will get, and what she’ll have to go through to gain entry into the country.
On October 2nd, 2018, Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old of Palestinian heritage from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arrived in Israel on a student visa to attend Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, but detained in the airport after she was found to have ties to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS. Alqasem was held in a detention facility. She had access to a phone, but couldn’t receive visits except from her lawyers.
Prior to her arrival in Israel, Alqasem scrubbed from her Facebook page all anti-Israeli propaganda. Through her lawyers, Alqasem claimed that she discontinued her anti-Israeli activities and that she is no longer supports BDS.
The Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which handles BDS cases, called Alqasem a “prominent activist” who met the criteria of being refused entry into Israel. The Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said: “Israel, like every democracy, has the right to prevent the entry of foreign nationals, especially those working to harm the country. Therefore, we work to prevent the entry of those who promote the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, which calls for Israel’s destruction.” The ministry added that Alqasem is free to return to the United States anytime.
Alqasem challenged the decision in court. The Hebrew University sided with Alqasem. The lower court accepted the government argument and ordered her deportation. The Israeli Supreme Court reversed the decision, allowing Alqasem to study in Israel as long as she doesn’t engage in anti-Israeli activities during her stay in Israel.
Anti BDS Israeli activists, are skeptical of Ms. Lara Alqasem’s statement that she is no longer supports BDS, or any other anti-Israeli group. It seems to them that it is more likely that her decision to study Israeli law was intended to be used as a foundation for future anti-Israeli activities. Yet, they agree that she did not commit any crime, and that she publicly discontinued her support of anti-Israeli groups.
As a democratic society, Israel encourages diversity of opinions. Israelis are tired of the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are willing to take the risk that what Alqasem learns in Israel may be used against them, in hope that while she is in Israel, Ms. Alqasem, will get to know the Israeli society with all its complexities, and that over time, she will become a bridge for understanding and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israelis are counting on Alqasem’s American upbringing and her Israeli experience to help her shape a more balanced political view. Afterall, the American core values and the Israeli core values are very similar. Israelis are far more diverse in their political views and actions than the way Israelis are portrayed by the anti-Israeli propaganda that Ms. Alqasem was exposed to in the US.
Although it must have been an unpleasant experience for her, Ms. Lara Alqasem received her first lesson about the Israeli society and its justice system. She, a twenty-two years old foreign national, from a Palestinian decent, stood up to the mighty Israeli government and won. She wasn’t alone: she received the public support of many Israelis, the support of the Hebrew University, and the support of the highest Israeli court.
It happened in parallel with another international event that caught the world’s attention: A Saudi reporter, who objected to his government policies, was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
The contrast between the two events cannot be ignored. It highlights the great the difference between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries. In Israel, the supreme court stood by her against the Israeli government wishes. On the other hand, an Arab government murdered one of its own citizens because he dared to criticize it.
If Ms. Lara Alqasem doesn’t see the difference, Israel just signed up for educating a potential future adversary. If she sees the difference, she might use her personal experience to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together.
Let’s hope she chooses the later and wish her success in her studies.