Najwa Doughman, a 25-year-old architect and University of Virginia graduate living in New York City, arrived in Israel on May 26 with a friend, Sasha Al-Sarabi, another UVA grad working in finance in the same city. Doughman was visiting Israel for the third time, Al-Sarabi for the first. But it turned out neither would see the country beyond the walls of Ben Gurion Airport.
As Doughman chronicles on the Israel-focused blog Mondoweiss and as Israel focused publication Haaretz reported, the women’s trials began about an hour after landing, when Doughman was asked her father’s first name. Both Doughman and Al-Sarabi’s parents are of Palestinian descent and were expelled from Haifa and Akko in 1948.
Sad as it is, it is rather commonplace to be detained at the Israel airport (21 activists were barred in mid-April), particularly for those of Palestinian descent, although less so for young American-born women on vacation.
She writes of being heckled and searched repeatedly by guards, stating that one guard inquired repeatedly as to her motives for entering the country:
But you have been here two times already. Why are you coming now for the third time? You can go to Venezuela, to Mexico, to Canada. It is much closer to New York, and much less expensive!
Two notable instances came out of the interrogation, however – the first that Doughman claims that she was forced to log into her Gmail account and allow security to run searches for words like “Israel,” “Palestine,” “West Bank” and “International Solidarity Movement.” The second is that Doughman claims that the American Embassy was less than sympathetic to her plight and simply urged her to leave the country on the next available flight. She wrote:
If we were two American citizens in a Syrian or Iranian ‘facility,’ would the American embassy’s reaction be the same? Would Obama himself not have made a statement by now, demanding our release? If we were Americans of Polish or Chinese descent, would we have been treated this way? American citizens are usually given a three-month visa upon arrival. Why were we an exception? There are a lot of things wrong with a lot of systems, but when we are funding one with billions of our tax dollars, this means that we are supporting it.
A sad situation indeed, if the events in fact occurred as described.
What do you think, readers? Has anyone else had a similar experience?