"Are you Jewish?" is the first question the U.S. Embassy staffer asked me on the phone while I sat in Israeli detention at the airport in Tel Aviv. When I responded that I was a Palestinian born in the United States, he said he could do nothing for me. Consequently, I endured eight hours of interrogation by Israeli authorities. When I would not grant them access to my email account, I was accused of being a terrorist. The heavy-handed treatment resulted from my participation in an interfaith delegation to listen to Palestinians and Israelis working for peace.
Israel decided to deport me and deny my participation in this project, deeming me a "security risk." I spent the night in prison and then was put on a flight home the next day.
The interrogators were especially interested in my activism. They had "googled" me and knew that I was involved in urging the Methodist Church to vote to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. I publicly advocated for divestment as a nonviolent measure to end the occupation. I attended the Methodist General Conference in Tampa and spoke to many about how my Christian Palestinian family is denied residency in the West Bank and how Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, were suffering under occupation. Israel's discriminatory policies have affected my family before. In 1966, my father came to the United States for work. Soon after, Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Israel conducted a census of residents of the Occupied Territories in 1967 to create a population registry. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 270,000 Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories before the war were absent during the census for study, work or because they fled the conflict. Many Palestinians, including my father, were denied their right to regain residency status. When my father returns to visit his family, he must do so on a tourist visa granted at Israel's discretion.
The U.S. Congress has done nothing to tell Israel that this is an outrage. Instead, they go along with AIPAC in giving Israel over $3 billion in military aid per year to further dispossess Palestinians.
Israel's treatment of Palestinians contrasts to its red-carpet treatment reserved for Jewish immigrants from anywhere. On my flight to Tel Aviv, I sat next to a woman who had just graduated from college and was headed to Israel for her first visit on a fully-funded "birthright" trip designed exclusively for Jews. The Israeli "Law of Return" offers Israeli citizenship to any person of Jewish heritage. By denying the right of return for millions of Palestinians refugees like my father, Israel maintains an artificial Jewish majority.
My deportation was designed to intimidate me into silence, but it won't work. I plan to encourage the Presbyterians in the coming weeks to support divestment from corporations profiting from the occupation. I will hold up my recent experience as a prime example of how Israel is intent on allowing
only those who are exclusively interested in hearing Israel's perspective into the country. Those who have concerns they wish to share with U.S. Christians are unwelcome. I am convinced my story will lead many people to examine more closely the discriminatory policies Israel is enacting.
Sandra Tamari is a Palestinian American who lives in Glen Carbon, Ill., and is active with the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee. A mother of two, she was deported from Israel on May 22 while attempting to enter with an interfaith delegation.