A 22-year-old American graduate student has appealed against her detention at Israel’s international airport over her alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Lara Alqasem appeared in a Tel Aviv court on Thursday. She will remain in detention until the court delivers a ruling; no date for the ruling has been fixed.
Israel has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem’s case.
Alqasem, who is of Palestinian descent, has been held at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport for more than a week after arriving from the United States to begin a master’s degree at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, despite having a valid visa.
How is BDS affecting Israel
But a senior Israeli minister on Wednesday defended the government’s handling of Alqasem’s case.
Gilad Erdan, who oversees the government’s efforts to counter the Palestinian-led boycott movement, said that Israel has the right to protect itself and decide who enters its borders.
On Tuesday, Erdan said he would be open to changing his position if Alqasem personally denounces the boycott of Israel.
The BDS movement started in 2005, after a call issued by Palestinian civil society groups for “people of conscience” around the world to help end Israel’s abuses against Palestinians, by cutting off cultural, academic, and economic ties with the state.
Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
The Hebrew University has called on the authorities to allow her in to study and has supported her appeal.
Israel passes law to ban boycotters
The more than week-long detention of Alqasem is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case.
While waiting for her appeal to be heard, Alqasem has been spending her days in a closed area with little access to a telephone, no internet and a bed that was infested with bedbugs, according to people who have spoken to her.
Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country. It also has identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival.
“As a general principle, we value freedom of expression even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views expressed and this is such a case,” US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters on Wednesday.
“Our strong opposition to the boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel is well-known,” he said.
“Israel is a sovereign nation that can determine who enters.”