“There are a million reasons why someone would be denied entry into Israel,” said Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad on Monday, responding to questions on the ministry’s border policies following its refusal to grant American professor Noam Chomsky entry to the West Bank on Sunday.
“Every case stands alone, and every individual who is denied entry is denied for different reasons,” she said.
Sunday saw a flurry of news coverage, both local and international, on Israel’s denial of the MIT linguistics professor’s entrance to the West Bank from Jordan. He was on his way to a lecture at the Bir Zeit University.
The rejection of Chomsky, a longtime vocal critic of Israeli and US policies, was seen by many as an Israeli attempt to stop him from expressing his opinions.
“It was a statement by Israel that they control who Bir Zeit University can invite,” Chomsky told Channel 1 on Monday. “I’ve never heard anything like that with any university. And I travel all the time.”
Hadad spent the day fielding reporters’ calls, attempting to provide explanations for the decision. On Sunday, she told The Jerusalem Post that the initial decision to deny Chomsky entry was due to a “misunderstanding,” and denied claims that Chomsky’s name was on a blacklist of individuals prohibited from entering the country.
She also confirmed that he had been questioned for a number of hours before being denied entry by the Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Border Authority.
Later, she said that since Chomsky was entering the West Bank, the decision to approve or deny his entrance was up to the IDF’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories.
COGAT said Monday that it had not received an official request on the matter, and when it did receive such a request, it would be assessed according to the regulations.
“There may be a million reasons, but try to find a single criterion for entry refusal and you’ll hit a blank wall,” said Oded Feller, an attorney for ACRI. “Dozens of people are refused entry to Israel every week, and I’m sure that the Interior Ministry has great reasons for every refusal, but if you try to discern what the regulations that guide the decision to grant or refuse an individual’s entry to Israel are, you won’t find them. The Interior Ministry simply doesn’t publish them, despite a court ruling that ordered them to do so.”
Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz told Channel 1 on Monday that “it was absolutely foolish to ban Chomsky for two reasons: one, because you should never ban someone because of their opinions, and two, because Chomsky is such a very ineffective speaker.”
Feller said that while cases like Chomsky’s grabbed the public’s attention because of his reputation and stature, the reality was that Israel denied entry to people who held similar beliefs and opinions as a matter of fact.
“Chomsky made headlines because of his fame, but foreign human rights activists, peace activists, political leaders, not to mention Palestinians and their relatives, are denied entry on a regular basis,” he said.
Danish student and peace activist Rikke Gram was denied entrance to Israel at the beginning of April. Gram, who studied history at the University of Haifa and later completed an internship at The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, was detained in Ben-Gurion Airport’s holding facility for three days after being denied entry, and then flown back to her home country.
Gram said she had been told she was being denied entry and blacklisted against reentering Israel for five years because she had lied to security officials about having visited the West Bank and about knowing Palestinians.
In a phone interview with the Post, Gram said she was very angry about the decision.
“I don’t understand the whole thing about me lying. In the end I told them everything and apologized for lying. Is that reason enough to deport me?” she asked.
Gram said that throughout her months-long stay in Israel she had never engaged in political activism and had attended one demonstration against house demolitions with a group of Israeli friends from university. She said the reason she had felt she had to lie was that Israeli friends told her that if she told the truth about her Palestinian acquaintances, Israel wouldn’t let her in.
“It’s very hurtful that they treat people this way,” said Gram. She said it was humiliating to have to wait for 14 hours at the airport before being denied entry, and then to be held for three days in a detention center before being sent back.
“I am aware of the need for security and respect it, but I believe that doing this, Israel is not making things easier for itself,” she said.
Gram recounted that while in the holding center, she had met two Norwegian women who had experienced the same treatment.
“The truth is that without a permanent presence at all border crossings, there is no way of knowing precisely how many people are denied and for what reasons,” said Feller. “What we do know is that in December 2007, the Jerusalem District Court handed down an order that the Interior Ministry publish all of its regulations, and that the ministry has yet to do so.”
The court order was the result of repeated and unsuccessful attempts by ACRI and other human rights groups to gain access to the Interior Ministry’s regulations and working procedures, among them those that determined the criteria for accepting or rejecting the entrance of foreign nationals.
In her verdict, District Court Judge Yehudit Tzur wrote that “”the facts of the case clearly show that for years, the respondent [the Interior Ministry] has been in breach of the law by not publishing the rules and regulations according to which it operates its various authorities. As can be noticed, this improper behavior has been going on for years, with the respondent disobeying both the written law and previous court rulings.”
At the end of her ruling, Tzur ordered the ministry to provide the plaintiffs with access to the regulations, to place written, up-to-date copies of the regulations in every population control bureau and to publish the regulations on the ministry’s Web site.
“Believe me, I’ve turned every stone and dug through the Web site very thoroughly, and I have not been able to find the regulations that determine entrance refusal. It’s still not on the records,” said Feller.
The only regulation that appears on the Interior Ministry’s Web site that says anything about the refusal to grant foreign nationals entry at border crossings states that if a border control representative determines that the visitor is entering Israel for the purpose of employment or for any other unlawful reason, and not for the purpose of a visit, his or her entry will be denied. The regulation states that the border control representative will decide on the spot whether the denial of entry is valid for future visits as well.
The regulation states that a person denied entry will be expelled immediately, and if it is not possible, the person will be held in a holding facility until expulsion is possible.
“I’m really angry that this whole story is being blamed on a single mistake made by a junior official at the border or one authority blaming the other,” said Feller. “In reality, we are talking about a common and regular occurrence. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one state of Israel, and it has one formal policy.”
Haddad said that the regulations governing the approval or denial of entrance to Israel were included in the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (1952).
The section of the law dealing with verification of permission to enter, states that “where a person comes to Israel and wishes to enter it, a border control officer may delay his entry until it has been ascertained whether he is permitted to enter, and he may indicate a place where such person shall stay until completion of such ascertainment or until his departure from Israel.
“(a) Where a person comes to Israel and it is found that he is not permitted to enter, the Minister of the Interior may remove him from Israel.
“(b) A frontier control officer may detain such a person, in such place and manner as the Minister of the Interior may prescribe, until his departure or removal from Israel.”
Haddad said she was unfamiliar with Gram’s case.