Canadian “peace coordinator” barred by Israel for ten years
The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC – mcc.org), a charity that has been working in Palestine since 1949, is calling on the US Congress not to allow Israel into the Visa Waiver Program because of Israel’s continued discrimination against international travelers “particularly of Arab or Muslim origin and those deemed politically suspect.” The Visa Waiver Program would allow Israeli citizens to enter the United States without obtaining a visa in advance. MCC’s call comes after Israeli authorities barred the entry on 29 May of Rachelle Friesen, an MCC service worker from Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada, as she attempted to return to Palestine from a work-related visit abroad. According to a 4 June MCC statement, Friesen was detained by Israeli authorities at Ben Gurion airport: “After more than 30 hours of detention, including three sessions of interrogation, Friesen was deported back to the origin of her flight in Barcelona, and is now banned from entering Israel for 10 years.” Friesen had served with MCC in Palestine as peace coordinator for four years and was ending her term of service this summer. MCC adds: “Friesen’s deportation is similar treatment to what some foreign visitors have experienced, simply for acknowledging contact with Palestinians, and to what MCC’s Palestinian and Israeli partners face on a regular basis in their nonviolent work for justice. It also is a window into the reality of life for Palestinians under the illegal Israeli occupation, who are forced to choose between enduring ongoing discrimination or permanently emigrating from their ancestral homes.”
The barring of Friesen is not an isolated incident, but part of an apparent escalating campaign against development, human rights and solidarity organizations. In February, for instance, Anne Irfan, who works for the UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians, was interrogated for 12 hours, denied entry and given a five-year ban. Last month, The Electronic Intifada exclusively reported that Israel is delaying the issuing of permits for Oxfam staff to travel to the occupied Gaza Strip – in apparent retaliation for the group’s criticism of Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson’s endorsement of occupation profiteer SodaStream. Notably, the MCC’s board of directors decided last year that it “will not knowingly invest in companies that benefit from products or services used to perpetrate acts of violence against Palestinians, Israelis and other people groups.”
MCC has created an action alert so that the public in the US can urge members of Congress not to approve Israel’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program. Israel’s efforts to join the program have faced strong opposition because of its systematic discrimination against, among others, US citizens of Palestinian or Arab ancestry or Muslim faith.