American Peace Activist Detained in Israel

By Josh Richman

Published July 16, 2004, issue of July 16, 2004.
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Israel’s refusal to let an American peace activist into the country is the product of a political double standard and a violation of her rights as a Diaspora Jew, supporters say.

Jamie Spector, 32, a social worker from San Francisco, was told upon arriving July 10 at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv that she was barred from entering the country because of her affiliation with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group that opposes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. She refused to leave, and has been held in detention by Israel ever since.

The ISM says it practices only nonviolent resistance. But Israeli officials maintain that the group has links to terrorists and have cracked down in recent months on ISM members and other activists coming to Israel to support the Palestinian cause. Spector — who has said she planned to be in Israel for three weeks to protest construction of the West Bank separation barrier, meet with other activists and do some sightseeing — now shares a cell with an ISM activist from New York who arrived two weeks earlier and a Dutch activist who arrived one day earlier. Unlike her cellmates, however, Spector is Jewish, a fact that her lawyer, Yael Berda, says makes Israel’s actions particularly objectionable. By blocking Spector’s entrance, the lawyer argued, Israel is violating the spirit of the Law of Return, which entitles Jews to immigrate to Israel.

In addition to her affiliation with the ISM, Spector is also a member of Jews for a Free Palestine, a group that has called upon Jews to renounce their right to immigrate under the Law of Return, arguing that the measure discriminates against Palestinian refugees.

Berda insisted that her client is the victim of a political double standard. “Hundreds of foreign citizens have entered Israel to help the settlers protest and physically resist the dismantling of the illegal settlements,” the attorney said. “None have been denied entry, that I know of.”

Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellinson did not respond to the Forward’s inquiry, but told the Associated Press that Israeli officials acted to block Spector’s entry in accordance with a security recommendation.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington referred questions about Spector to the consulate in San Francisco, where spokesman Jarad Bernstein said: “Israel is a democratic country based on law and order, and like other countries Israel retains its right to accept or deny entry into the country to foreign citizens based on certain regulations.

“Acting within these regulations, Israel has decided to deny entry to American citizen Jamie Spector. Israeli law affords her the right to appeal this decision, and she is currently in the process of doing so. Her case will be heard in Tel Aviv district court during the coming days.”

Berda has won an injunction preventing Spector’s forcible deportation pending judicial hearings on her demand to enter. “We are petitioning that Jamie is not a security threat,” Berda said. “She is perhaps a media hindrance to the Sharon government, although I’ve seen much more vocal activists than her.”

According to Berda, Spector never ran afoul of the law while visiting Israel in November 2002.

This time, Spector arrived just days after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that major portions of the separation barrier violate international law; the Israeli government, claiming that Palestinian terrorism makes the wall necessary and justified, is moving ahead with construction.

“The government is trying to create an environment that whoever protests the wall is actually aiding terrorism,” Berda said.

“The problem is the de-legitimization of protest and voicing political opinion; the repression of demonstrations has grown terribly in the past months,” Berda said. “Last time she was here, she participated in an olive harvest with villagers in the Salfit district. She never had any confrontation with anyone, let alone soldiers.”

In a statement released through the ISM on her second day of detention, she said: “As a Jewish person of conscience, I see the illegal apartheid wall that is being built as a modern Warsaw Ghetto. As a Jewish person, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to oppose this wall, and the unjust occupation of Palestinians.”

Spector’s family said she was raised in a Sabbath-observant home and had belonged to a B’nai B’rith youth group. She and her sister both worked at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine, where Israeli and Palestinian youths spend their summers together. Her parents, Annette and Stephen Spector, currently lead the Washington chapter of the Tikkun Community, the organization run by Rabbi Michael Lerner, though she is not a member.

Annette Spector, an education consultant from Falls Church, Va., said she is “angry” and “appalled” that Israel is branding her daughter “a bandit and a criminal and aiding terrorists, which is absolutely false.”

Stephen Spector, an attorney, said his daughter “is the kind of person who if Israel were looking to build bridges… they should be reaching out to.” He spoke proudly of his daughter’s four years of work in Bosnia, where her language and organizational skills made her a key consultant for the relief organization CARE International. Now she is a social worker at two public elementary schools in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The Spectors were concerned about their daughter’s safety until they were able to speak with her by phone for about 20 minutes on the day after her detention. “We’re just angry, furious at the Israeli government,” Annette Spector said. “We’re not concerned about Jamie physically — she’s a very strong woman, and we support her cause 100%.”

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