Israel: First Lesson in Human Rights

We left Chicago on March 11, 6pm Chicago time — an uneventful start of our journey. Everyone was on time (to our great surprise). No luggage issues! We had a wonderful flight to Paris – most of our group was too excited to rest so we managed to annoy the other passengers on the plane with our frivolity, forcing a French couple who was seated too close to us to move their seats to another part of the airplane.

After a short layover in Paris, we flew to Tel Aviv. We arrived at approx 4pm and had our first lesson in international human rights. As we joined the masses in the immigration lines, two of our group were singled out and asked to follow security officers to a holding area — the beginning of a nightmare that lasted until the following morning. This is the story about a brother and sister, Faisel and Dena, born in the US, traveling on US passports and of Palestinian descent. After five hours of detention that included extensive questioning by authorities, the pair was denied entruy into Israel. Even after intervention by US government agencies, members of Congress and several NGO’s (all working throughout the night), the two were ordered to leave the country and were placed on the next available flight out (at 8am the following morning). The decision to expel these students was made by the Ministry of Interior. No official statement was issued. Human rights organizations in Israel commented afterwards that it is not “uncommon” to deny entry to decedents of Palestinians for political reasons.

Tears flowed as a number of students and two of the professors were able to say goodbye before Dena and Faisel were escorted away by security officers.

We arrived in Haifa in the middle of the night exhausted and sad.

Note from the professors: we have been in contact with Dena, Faisel and their family. All are doing well considering their ordeal.

Day Two-
The warm sun introduced a new day as we prepared to restart our journey minus two of our colleagues.

What a wonderful day it has been. Starting out at 9am at Haifa University Law Faculty building, high on top of Mount Carmel, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean bay below and the mountains of Lebanon twenty miles away, we were welcomed by the faculty of the law school. Our hosts presented a full day of seminars, heated discussions with scholars, legal advocates and clinicians. We explored the thorny issues of the day including the fate of democracy in the age of terrorism, the Israel-Palestinian occupation and minority rights in Israel. We also discussed privacy issues and the impact of technology on human rights.

After a day of intellectual challenge and an informal lunch with Israeli law students – Jewish, Arab, and Ethiopian – we traveled to Daliat Al Carmel, a Druze village, approximately a half-hour from the University for local hospitality in the home of an 80-year-old leader of the community. We learned about the Druze religion and unique way of life. We ended the evening with a delicious and rich middle-eastern feast.

Exhausted, some of us are ready to sleep…..

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