Palestinian-American subjected to 'racism' by Israeli airline amid US visa waiver efforts

Palestinian-American subjected to 'racism' by Israeli airline amid US visa waiver efforts
Palestinian-Americans trying to travel home still face major disruption even as Israel is trying to curry favour with the US over the Visa Waiver Program.
3 min read
20 July, 2023
Ben Gurion airport is notorious for its treatment of Palestinian travellers [Getty]

Palestinian-American journalist Noor Wazwaz documented her struggle with 'racist' treatment by airport staff while travelling to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, amid efforts by Israel to enter the US Visa Waiver Program on condition of improved access for Palestinians. 

Wazwaz shared the ordeal she experienced on US soil and in Tel Aviv via Twitter, receiving thousands of views and an outpouring of sympathy. 

Before boarding her flight with Israeli flag carrier El Al from Newark airport, Wazwaz, whose family are from Jerusalem, was told her personal effects "contained explosives" and were submitted to probing physical searches and swabs. 

She said she was explicitly told that she was under suspicion because of her Palestinian heritage, and because she was visiting "places like Ramallah".

Eventually she was denied boarding for her El Al flight to Tel Aviv, and booked onto a flight with another airline. 

When she arrived at Ben Gurion airport, she was subjected to more interrogations and detention before being released and reunited with family.

Wazwaz’s story has been shared thousands of times on social media at a time when Israel is trying to curry favour with the US to access its prized Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to ease access from Israel. 

Tel Aviv announced Wednesday that it would allow Palestinian Americans entry to Israel in a bid to qualify for the program.

Israel has long coveted access to the program, which the US currently operates with 40 countries - the majority of which lie in Europe.  

Israel’s hopes rest on a month-long trial to join the VWP, where US State Department and Homeland Security Department delegation is due to observe operations at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv and crossings between the West Bank and Israel. 

While they have formally agreed to allow citizens of Palestinian origin unfettered passage to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Wazwaz has expressed her doubt that Israel will ever enforce this in practice. 

"All this is happening as the State Department announced that it would give Israeli tourists visa-free travel to the US only if Israel stops discriminating against Arab Americans," said Wazwaz.

"Let me tell you: It’s never going to stop," she tweeted. 

El Al eventually replied to Wazwaz’s Twitter thread, asking her to get in contact about her experiences.