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US Peace Activists Prevented from Entering West Bank
11 August 2002
Israel on Saturday prevented US peace activists traveling with US congressional staff members on a fact-finding mission to the Palestinian territories and Israel from entering the West Bank, according to the activists, the State Department and an Israeli official.
Yaffa Ben-Ari, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Israel objected to the entry of the peace activists traveling with the U.S. team.
The activists were three representatives of the American Muslims for Jerusalem organization and Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel organization, said Josh Ruebner, head of the JPPI. He said they planned to meet with American and international humanitarian organizations in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Since Israel has the sovereign right to decide who can enter Israel and who can't, we have the right to prevent groups who we know ahead of time are coming to demonstrate and cause provocation in places where Israeli soldiers are fighting terrorism," Ben-Ari said.
In Washington, the State Department said two of the three "coordinators" with the congressional staff members were denied entry into Israel when they arrived at the Allenby Bridge border crossing from the Jordanian side. The congressional staff members themselves decided not to present their passports to the Israeli authorities for inspection and permission to enter, the State Department said.
It wasn't immediately clear which U.S. representatives the congressional staff members were representing. The delegation could not be reached for comment, and Khalid Turanni, executive director of the American Muslims for Jerusalem, refused to provide their names.
Ruebner said he was allowed to enter Israel but refused because two other activists were denied permission.
In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, Ruebner criticized Israel for blocking the entry of the activists and the congressional staff members. Both Israel and the State Department said that the U.S. team never attempted to cross the border.
"This unprecedented slap in the face to members of Congress is Israel's way of repaying the institution which gives it three billion dollars of taxpayers' money every year," he said. "What does Israel not want Congress to see?"
Turaani said he and the other American Muslim activist were denied entry because they were Muslims. "We still maintain that the Israeli discrimination against the American Muslims in the delegation is disturbing and the State Department's acquiescence is shameful." Turaani is Jordanian-American of Palestinian origin.
The State Department said the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem and the embassy in Tel Aviv have been deeply involved in attempting to facilitate entry for the entire group.
Before they left the United States, a State Department officer discussed the trip with the coordinators and urged that they contact Israeli officials in advance to facilitate their entry. When they arrived at the bridge, the Tel Aviv embassy urged Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry officials to give every consideration to their entry, the State Department said.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli protestors from the Ta'ayush movement http://taayush.tripod.com/index.html to promote relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel, were forcibly turned away by police from a roadblock into Bethlehem while attempting to enter the West Bank city to join a Palestinan demonstration for peace.
One of the Israeli demonstrators reported that the police turned water cannons on the crowd, before mounted officers rode their horses into the demonstrators and began beating them.
She said that the demonstrators tried to enter Bethlehem through another roadblock but were also turned away from there, although without the use of violent means.
One of the demonstrators wounded in the incident was taken to hospital for treatment.
Published by Ha'aretz (Israel) © 2002 Ha`aretz