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Israel bans British-Palestinian professor, citing new BDS law

Israel has banned British-Palestinian professor and boycott campaigner Kamel Hawwash from visiting relatives in Jerusalem.

Hawwash told The Electronic Intifada he was “devastated.” Israeli authorities divided his family after they had flown into Tel Aviv on Friday.

An Israeli officer took him aside and told him, “we have a problem with you,” Hawwash said. The officer cited Hawwash’s support for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and a new Israeli law against the BDS movement.

The officer asked Hawwash, “Do you know about the BDS law?”

The new law gives Israel the ability to bar entry to anyone who speaks in favor of boycotts of Israel. It applies even to limited boycotts of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.

Hawwash’s wife and five-year-old son were allowed to enter, but he was denied entry and put on a plane to Brussels a few hours later. Hawwash had flown from Birmingham to Tel Aviv, via Brussels.

His passport was confiscated and given to the pilot.

“I went and told my wife I wasn’t going to be admitted, and she obviously broke down. My son was completely bewildered as to what was happening,” Hawwash said.

The family had been headed for Jerusalem for their annual holiday in Palestine, a tradition that now seems to be at a forcible end.

Hawwash says he does not engage in political work during his trips to the family’s homeland.

Family torn apart

While Hawwash’s wife Lina holds only the Israeli identification card issued to Palestinians in Jerusalem, Hawwash holds a British passport.

“I was never going to deny her the chance to see her family, so she went in,” Hawwash said.

“My mother-in-law – immediately when she heard – said to my wife, ‘oh my God, that means I’m never going to see Kamel before I die,’” said Hawwash. “And I have uncles who are in their seventies who could pass away any moment.”

Hawwash has long been a leading figure in the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign and is a member of its executive committee. He is also an engineering professor at the University of Birmingham.

This was the first time has been denied entry, despite years of family visits.

The Israeli officer who questioned him accused him of belonging to an “anti-Israel organization,” said Hawwash.

“Really what hurts is seeing people who’ve taken our land stopping us from going back to it,” Hawwash told The Electronic Intifada. “The colonizer saying that you can’t come to your homeland.”

Scandalous British inaction

The Israeli officer gave Hawwash a Hebrew print-out, claiming it contained messages from his Twitter account. Hawwash replied that he would have to see the English originals before he could comment.

At the end of the questioning, he was handed a document citing Israeli law, barring his entry. The document is published below, with personal details redacted.

An article about Hawwash published by the Israeli settler news agency Arutz Sheva quotes Aryeh Deri, Israel’s interior minister, alleging there have been “attempts by those who act to boycott Israel to enter its borders and thus strengthen their operations.”

Hawwash called a British consulate, but the authorities were little help, telling him, “Well if you’ve been denied entry there’s nothing we can do.”

Richard Burden, a lawmaker representing Birmingham, is demanding the UK government speak out against the anti-boycott law, according to a statement issued by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Burden said that it is “utterly shocking” Hawwash may never see his family in Palestine again due to the anti-BDS law.

“The relaxed attitude our ministers are showing to Israel’s actions is scandalous,” he added.

Undemocratic

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said in the statement: “The bottom line is that Israel is using its new boycott law to ban foreign human rights activists. The BDS movement peacefully pressures Israel to comply with international law and cease human rights violations.”

Hawwash’s parents were born in Jerusalem. But they were living in Saudi Arabia – where his father worked – during the war of June 1967. Israel’s military occupation of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank began during that war.

Like many other Palestinians who were outside the country at the time, Hawwash was denied a Jerusalem identity card.

On Monday, Israel barred Anuar Majluf, the director of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, as he traveled with a delegation to his ancestral homeland for Easter.

In March the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s chair Hugh Lanning became the first known victim of the anti-BDS law, as Israel barred him from taking a four-day visit to occupied Jerusalem.

After the ban, Lanning, a former elected official in the UK’s Public and Commercial Services union, received messages of support from train drivers’ union ASLEF, the UK’s largest union Unite, as well as his own union.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey said in a statement that “the new law to ban entry to foreigners who advocate the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, violates fundamental freedoms which are essential to a democracy.”

He said that Israel was not behaving like a democratic country and called on the British government to protest against the new policy.

Schermata 2017 04 15 alle 08.51.01

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