Israeli Officers Assault American Citizens at Border Crossings: The Case of Aisha Elmasri

Washington, D.C. | www.mpac.org | October 11, 2022Aisha Jasmine Elmasri is a south-central Los Angeles middle school principal who planned on visiting Jerusalem for a spiritual pilgrimage on her 30th birthday. Aisha states that her sole reason for travel to Jerusalem was for the opportunity “to pray at al-Aqsa mosque, a place that unites all Abrahamic faiths.”

Hearing about the ill treatment that Americans of Arab or Muslim background receive at the Israeli passport checkpoint, Aisha took all precautions beforehand to ensure that she can safely travel to Jerusalem. It did not suffice.

Aisha was initially welcomed to Ben Gurion Airport by the Israeli passport control officer upon seeing Aisha’s American passport, but the moment that the officer opened up and read her name, everything changed: “Where was your father born?” What followed was hours of interrogation, including her belongings being seized, and her phone searched by Israeli authorities without warrant. Furthermore Aisha wasn’t given food to eat during the over 14 hours she was in their custody.

After the interrogation, Aisha was deemed a risk for Israel, denied entry, and was told that she was going to be moved to an off-site detention center. This was where Aisha decided that she wouldn’t comply with being removed from the airport and called her family in the United States, speaking loudly in English, so others at the airport could hear her call for distress. Aisha stated that it was at this moment that an Israeli officer slapped her across the face, while 15 other Israeli officers tackled her to the ground to detain her. Aisha did not resist arrest and had her hands up, yet this wasn’t enough for the Israeli officers to not violate Aisha, leaving her with many visible bruises and trauma as she boarded the plane leaving Israel.

Aisha’s story isn’t unique. There are hundreds of reports from Americans of Muslim or Arab background abused at the Israeli border, whether traveling by land or by air, whether they are Muslim or Christian, regardless of where they were born. The American government’s continued failure to address the discriminatory Israeli entry-exit policies by condoning these bigoted policies constitutes a failure on behalf of the United States. Protecting American citizens’ rights should not be a compromise between our government and any other nation, including Israel. With the nearly $4 billion dollars of American tax money given to Israel in this year alone, the United States government definitely has the ability to dictate to Israel how to address all of its troubling policies, including their entry-exit policies, their ill-treatment of the Palestinians, and Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian territories through Israeli settlers.

Earlier today, MPAC sent an open letter to the U.S. Department of State to reject Israel’s request to join our Visa Waiver Program. MPAC also calls on the State Department to ensure that Israel ceases to discriminate against and violates the human rights of Americans visiting Israel — a privilege that the United States grants to Israelis at American border crossings. MPAC will partner up with other civil society organizations, like the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), that have filed complaints against Israel’s treatments of American citizens at their border and support their call for our government to stand up for our citizens.

We will await the Department of State to respond to our statement and will continue advocating for our government to ensure that the religious freedoms and human rights for all Americans are respected when traveling abroad. Otherwise, our U.S passports are rendered meaningless by the Israeli government.

We urge those who have experienced discrimination while traveling to Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories to record their experience in ADC’s centralized database. The data collected will be used to urge our government to take action.

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The Muslim Public Affairs Council improves public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging our government, media and communities.