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Palestinian Americans sue the US for admitting Israel into visa waiver programme

September 28, 2023 at 2:39 pm

A protester holding a Palestinian flag during a protest to commemorate the Day of Nakba, also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe, on May 15, 2023 in Paris, France. The Nakba Day, May 15, 1948, led to permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian people from their homeland [Ibrahim Ezzat – Anadolu Agency]

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has filed a lawsuit against the US government for allegedly endorsing discrimination against American Palestinians in the controversial Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). Israel was admitted to the programme yesterday despite strong protests from American Arab and Palestinian citizens who have long complained about discrimination faced when travelling to occupied Palestine.

Israel’s admission to the VWP is controversial because the occupation state restricts the movement of Palestinian Americans in ways that violate the programme’s rules on equal treatment of US citizens. To join the programme, countries must provide all US travellers reciprocal privileges regardless of any other citizenships they hold. For Israel, this would mean granting free access to Palestinian Americans at its airports and when entering or leaving occupied Palestinian territory.

Israel imposes limitations on Palestinian Americans that it does not apply to other US citizens

However, Israel currently imposes limitations on Palestinian Americans that it does not apply to other US citizens. For instance, it restricts their freedom of movement across checkpoints into the occupied West Bank. Israel also subjects Palestinian Americans to harsh interrogation and detention at airports and land crossings.

In its lawsuit, the ADC argues that Israel discriminates against Palestinian Americans, violating the VWP’s reciprocity rule requiring equal treatment of all US citizens. The lawsuit alleges the US disregarded this law by enabling Israel to create different classes of citizens and treat them unequally.

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“The requirements of the Visa Waiver Programme are clear and unambiguous. The US government is obligated to ensure that all Americans are treated equally,” said Abed Ayoub, national executive director of ADC and one of the plaintiffs. “It is our intent to hold the US government accountable for any actions that create separate classes of US citizens.” Adam Shapiro, Anas Shawkat Museitef, Haidar Darwish and Mohammed Ahmed Abujayyab, are also named as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing a decision on Israel’s VWP entry until it provides guarantees of full, equal privileges for all US citizens without distinction. It aims to hold the US accountable for sanctioning discriminatory treatment of its own citizens.

In July, the US and Israel signed a reciprocity agreement supposedly allowing Americans to freely enter Israel. After a six-week trial period, the US said it would decide on Israel’s VWP entry by 30 September.

However, experts and lawmakers have raised concerns that Israel created a multi-tiered entry system during this trial, treating Palestinian and Arab Americans unequally. US senators recently warned the Biden administration against greenlighting Israel’s VWP entry given its lack of compliance with non-discrimination laws.

The ADC says Israel’s current policies already discriminate, including restrictions on Palestinian Americans crossing into the occupied West Bank. The lawsuit seeks to compel the US to uphold equal protection under the law for all citizens regarding VWP eligibility.

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