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Most Unwelcome: Prominent US Human Rights Campaigners Denied Entry to Israel

"The abusive treatment," said Columbia University law professor barred from entering, "ironically illustrates how the state of Israel refuses to respect the political and civil rights of its own citizens, of Palestinians, and of human rights defenders globally."

Though they arrived with a plan to witness and document the human rights situation in both Israel and Occupied Palestine, both Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Katherine Franke, chair of group's board and a law professor at Columbia University, were detained upon their arrival on Sunday at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Photo: BookingIsrael)

The executive director and board chair of a prominent U.S. human rights group were denied entry by the Israeli government on Monday—detained at the international airport in Tel Aviv for hours of questioning and delay before being put back on a plane out of the country.

Though they arrived with a plan to witness and document the human rights situation in both Israel and Occupied Palestine, both Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Katherine Franke, chair of group's board and a law professor at Columbia University, were detained upon their arrival on Sunday at Ben Gurion International Airport.

"Our trip sought to explore the intersection of Black and Brown people’s experiences in the U.S. with the situation of Palestinians, and Israel could not have made that connection clearer."
—Vince Warren, Center for Constitutional Rights
After being held by Israeli authorities for 14 hours, the pair said they were denied permission to officially enter the company and were placed back on a flight to New York.

"The Israeli government denied us entry, apparently because it feared letting in people who might challenge its policies. This is something that we should neither accept nor condone from a country that calls itself a democracy," Warren said in a statement on Tuesday. "Our trip sought to explore the intersection of Black and Brown people’s experiences in the U.S. with the situation of Palestinians, and Israel could not have made that connection clearer."

Israeli has been criticized in recent years for increasingly barring human rights experts and campaigners from entering the country and this latest incident comes amid international outrage over the Israeli military's brutal and murderous repression of non-violent protests along the Gaza border where scores of demonstrating Palestinians have been killed in recent weeks and hundreds injured by IDF soldiers using live ammunition to quell dissent.

As the group stated on Tuesday:

Israel has a well-known history of denying human rights advocates and other possible critics of its policies entry to Israel, even if those individuals only seek to visit and meet with Palestinians—whose borders Israeli fully controls.   

Israel’s denial of entry to foreign citizens must be seen in the context of its ongoing efforts to repress human rights activism within Israel and Palestine, and its regular denial of entry to Palestinians, including U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin. It has been 70 years since the mass killing and eviction of Palestinians by the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, 50 years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and 11 years of its punitive closure of Gaza, whose residents have been shot and killed in nonviolent protests in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Israel continues to expand its West Bank settlements, annex East Jerusalem, and increase attacks on human rights defenders and incarceration of political prisoners.

According to Franke, her interrogation and the decision to refuse her entry was clearly "because of my work in the U.S. on behalf of Palestinian rights." In addition to her work with CCR,  Franke is also a member of the executive committee of Columbia's Center for Palestine Studies.

"No government is immune from criticism for its human rights record," Franke added. "The abusive treatment Vince Warren and I received at Ben Gurion airport ironically illustrates how the state of Israel refuses to respect the political and civil rights of its own citizens, of Palestinians, and of human rights defenders globally."

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