If you find TSA screenings at U.S. airports invasive, wait until you hear this: Arab Americans attempting to enter Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories are now frequently being forced to open up their emails so Israeli border security can go through their messages and chats. When 42-year old Palestinian American Sandra Tamari refused to log into her Gmail to let Israeli border police go through it, she was expelled from the country.
This is but the latest intrusive measure selectively applied at Israel's borders. For decades, the Arab American community has suffered discrimination and harassment by Israeli authorities upon attempting to visit Israel or Palestine. Nearly 3 years ago, the Arab American Institute (the organization I work for) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complaining about the treatment of Arab Americans by Israeli border authorities. In that letter, we recounted the following:
Documented cases from the past eight months describe: Arab Americans trapped in Gaza and prohibited from exiting into Israel; American-born Palestinians forced to surrender their U.S. passports on entry and receive, against their will, a Palestinian ID document; numerous reports from American-born U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent or Arab heritage being singled out for prolonged questioning on entry and departure, and burdensome and discriminatory visa requirements imposed upon Palestinian Americans severely impacting their families and businesses.
How does the U.S. government deal with such treatment of Americans? Instead of aggressively defending its citizens' right to travel without facing ethnic discrimination or invasive measures by allies, it has chosen to play nice with the Israeli government while cautioning its own citizens that,
U.S. citizens with Arabic or Muslim names, those born in Muslim or Middle Eastern countries, those who have been involved in missionary or activist activity, those who ask that Israeli stamps not be entered into their passport, and other U.S. citizen travelers have been delayed and subjected to close scrutiny by Israeli border authorities.
This is really not good enough. Americans of Arab descent are no less entitled to the protections of American citizenship than other Americans, and a friendly reminder of impending harassment upon travel to certain countries falls drastically short of that. The U.S. government has a serious responsibility here to tell Israel, a country that draws unprecedented (indeed, too much) military aid and diplomatic support from the U.S., that they must treat all our citizens with respect, regardless of their ethnic origin.
This is, of course, not just an issue of concern to Arab Americans, because once the mistreatment of one group is acquiesced to, it opens the door for the mistreatment of everyone. If you haven't noticed signs of this, consider the strip-searching of Dan Rather's camera crew, the "blatant cruelty" that a pregnant New York Times journalist faced, and countless other examples of Israeli mistreatment of visitors. This is the time for all Americans to demand a stronger position from our government on this troublesome trend.