US student still detained by authorities 5 days after landing in Israel

The 22-year-old with alleged BDS ties is being detained in the airport until the court sorts out her status with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

By
October 7, 2018 17:49
4 minute read.
Lara Alqasem

Florida student Lara Alqasem was detained at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, allegedly for her ties to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement.. (photo credit: CODY O'ROURKE/COURTESY/TNS)

 
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A lawyer for Lara Alqasem, the Florida university student detained by Israeli authorities at Ben-Gurion Airport for alleged Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activity told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he hopes her appeal to leave the airport will be heard this week. 

The 22-year-old is being detained until the court sorts out her status with the Strategic Affairs Ministry, having opposed her entry into the country and the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ratifying that decision.

Attorney Yotam Ben-Hallel has already filed an appeal to the Tel Aviv District Court and even as no hearing date is set, he is hopeful the appeal will be heard within days since Alqasem is being held at Ben-Gurion. She has been detained since Tuesday last week and will continue to be held until her hearing.

An official at the US Embassy in Israel said Sunday that the embassy was aware of her detention and is handling her case.

“We are aware of the case and our Embassy is providing consular assistance,” the embassy official told Haaretz on Sunday.

Rector Barak Medina of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Alqasem was due to study abroad for the year, told the Post that the university is standing firmly behind her. Medina said the university objects to her detention, both questioning the evidence against her and based on the principle of free speech.

Haaretz has also reported that the Interior Ministry denied the request of a group of lecturers from the Hebrew University to visit Alqasem at the airport’s detention facility.

It appears that Alqasem has admitted that during her university studies in Florida, she was president of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which often leads boycott campaigns against Israel.

However, she and university professors of hers from Florida say that she quit the group some time ago and had been focusing more on understanding both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as demonstrated by her readiness to attend Hebrew University.

According to Florida professors supporting her, she was heavily criticized by her local community for agreeing to attend Hebrew University, which is in and of itself a recognition of the State of Israel and flies in the face of the boycott strategy.

In contrast, the Strategic Affairs Ministry appears to doubt her motivations and seems to believe she will use her time in Israel as a new platform for anti-Israel activity.

The boycott movement, begun in 2005, has been bitterly opposed by many Jews around the world. Still, the movement has gained supporters, including celebrities, such as Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, and the late scientist Stephen Hawking.


As a response to the movement, Israel passed a law in 2017 prohibiting the entry of foreigners who call for bans on Israel or its settlements. The law has tripped up several Americans who sought to visit the country, including journalist Peter Beinart and Ariel Gold, director of Code Pink, a women’s peace group.

Alqasem’s mother, Karen Alqasem, said her daughter was only involved with Students for Justice in Palestine for one semester at University of Florida. But a website called Canary Mission, which says it documents antisemitism on college campuses, has a page on Alqasem that reports she was the “2016-2017 president and primary contact for Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida.”

The site says she was a member of the group since 2014 and was involved in a 2016 event that urged students to boycott Sabra Hummus, which is owned in part by an Israeli company.

Especially surprising to the family: Alqasem, who was born in Miami and has lived in Southwest Ranches for the past 15 years, visited Israel in December and got a student visa from Israel’s consulate in Miami for this trip without any challenges.

The government has responded that it did not know of her alleged BDS activities when her visa was approved.

At University of Florida, Alqasem majored in Arabic and also studied Hebrew, her mother said. At Hebrew University, she plans to get a master’s in Human Rights and Transitional Justice, a degree that explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and educates students for careers in government and international relations, according to GoAbroad.com.

“As far back as I can remember she has been interested in the two cultures,” said her mother, a native of Wales. Her father is from Qatar.

“She was not going there to cause any trouble,” her mother said.

Karen Alqasem said her daughter called her after she was detained, but has since had her phone taken away.

TNS contributed to this story.


CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was involved in detaining Alqasem. While the Shin Bet has been involved in many of the high profile recent detentions at Ben Gurion and has confirmed to the Post that it continues to be involved in the Ben-Gurion security process, it was not specifically involved in the Alqasem case.

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