Israel targets Palestinian-Canadians

August 21st, 2009 | Posted in Other
    Globe and Mail by Paul Koring, Friday August 20th.


    Photo: Zoriah (c). Palestinian handles necklace at Israeli checkpoint.

A tough Israeli crackdown that discriminates against some American citizens because they are of Palestinian origin has been sharply protested by the Obama administration, but the same treatment curtailing freedom of movement for Canadian citizens has produced no response from the Harper government.

Border guards at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport have been barring entry to arriving Canadian and American citizens with Palestinian-sounding names. They are told they must make a long detour and enter via the Allenby Bridge land-border crossing that connects the West Bank with Jordan. On arrival there, their passports are stamped “Palestinian Authority only” – preventing them from entering Israel, including the annexed parts of East Jerusalem.

The Obama administration has demanded an end to the discriminatory and second-class treatment of some Americans. “The United States expects that all American citizens to be treated equally, regardless of their national origin,” it said in a statement. “We have let the Government of Israel know that these restrictions unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab American travellers and are not acceptable.”

Although some of the most high-profile cases of individuals being turned away involve Canadian citizens, the Harper government has, so far, made no protest.

Canadian diplomats have been told to arrange a meeting with Israeli officials to “better understand the consequences” of the policy, Foreign Affairs spokesman Rodney Moore said Thursday. He confirmed the government “is aware of the new Israeli practice of stamping the passport of foreign nationals with a ‘Palestinian Authority only’ stamp.”

But unlike the U.S. embassy in Israel, which has a long warning on its website, the Canadian Foreign Ministry and the embassy have no information posted.

Monir ElRayes, president of the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians, said he was saddened but not surprised by the stark disparity between the responses from Washington and Ottawa.

“The U.S. is committed to protecting all its citizens and not allowing them to be singled out for their religion or ethnic background,” he said from Ottawa.

“The Harper government wants to disown us even though we are citizens,” he added, citing the lengthening string of cases where non-white and Muslim Canadians facing difficulties overseas were refused help by Canadian diplomats.

“Sadly, this is very un-Canadian,” Mr. ElRayes said.

Stung by the American protest, Israel has promised a review of the policy.

“All of the ministries involved are looking into this, and we expect to have answers very soon,” an Israeli diplomat said Thursday.

The new de facto visas, which limit some visitors to Gaza and the West Bank while keeping them out of Israel and the annexed areas of East Jerusalem, have been stamped in Canadian, American and some European passports for months.

One of those ensnared by the new rules is Mohammed Sabawi, a Canadian businessman whose ordeal was chronicled by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. After more than 15 years of regularly travelling to Israel without restriction and dealing with Israeli businesses, he was forced to enter Palestinian areas via the Allenby Bridge. He was then denied entry into Israel because his passport was stamped “Palestinian Authority only.”

“We were in shock,” Khalid Sabawi, Mohammed Sabawi’s 25-year-old son, told Haaretz as he explained now the new rules barred them from meeting with their Israeli suppliers and partners.

Even the Canada-Israel Committee, a staunchly pro-Israeli lobby group, seems taken aback by the rules that discriminate on the basis of ethnicity.

“We are seeking clarification,” Shimon Fogel, the committee’s chief executive officer, said in a message just before catching a fight back to Canada from Israel. “We will certainly follow up with the Israelis,” he added.

In Israel, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad defended the new rules, saying there was a ban on all Palestinians entering Israel, regardless of what other nationalities they hold. More than one million non-Jews, most of them Palestinian Arabs, hold Israeli citizenship and live in Israel.

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