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US student appeals entry ban

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The Tel Aviv District Court heard the appeal of 22-year old American student Lara Alqasem, who has been denied entry to Israel by officials on the grounds that she supports the movement to boycott Israel.

Alqasem arrived at Tel Aviv International Airport on 2 October after being accepted as a graduate student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was denied entry into Israel and is currently at a facility at the airport, despite obtaining a student visa from the Israeli consulate in Miami. She has been offered the chance to fly back to the US but opted to stay and challenge the Israeli Government’s decision.

At yesterday’s hearing Alqasem’s lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel argued that the Boycott Law only permits denying entry to people who take an “active role” in boycotting Israel, which is not the case with Alqasem as he said she left her position as president of the Society for Justice of Palestine at her US university 18 months ago.

State prosecutor Yossi Zadok told the district court that the Boycott Law also applies to people who until recently were members of organisations that boycott Israel, and that the law only makes exceptions for people who were activists in such organisations in the distant past.

The state also argued that Alqasem was a member of the movement to boycott Israel for four years and that her Facebook profile indicated that she continued going to related events until a few months ago. When asked to provide more evidence, Zadok said Alqasem had deleted her account, which is why the state cannot prove its allegations. Ben-Hillel said the state’s case was based on “ridiculous allegations” and that there was no evidence that she actually attended the events.

The Hebrew University said in a statement that “the state should ask itself if denying entry to this young woman who came to study here will strengthen Israel in its campaign against the boycott movement or whether it will yield the opposite result. We believe that it will produce the opposite result”.

While Ben-Hillel pressed for a quick decision by the district court, the judge indicated that the decision would be issued in the coming days.