Israeli court hears appeal by US student held over ‘BDS links’

Lara Alqasem, who has been detained for 15 days, awaits a final verdict on her appeal over her alleged support for BDS.

Hearing for US citizen detained by Israel - Anadolu/Mostafa Alkharouf
Israel has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Lara Alqasem's case [Anadolu]

Israel’s top court has heard the appeal of an American student who has been detained at the country’s international airport for the past two weeks over her alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Lara Alqasem appeared in court on Wednesday, but will remain in detention until the court delivers a final ruling later this week, her lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel, confirmed to Al Jazeera.

“The court was really on her side,” Ben-Hillel told Al Jazeera shortly after the hearing in Tel Aviv.

“They said that the fact that she was not involved in BDS groups … works in her favour.”

Alqasem, who is of Palestinian descent, has been held at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport – despite having a valid visa – for more than two weeks since arriving from the United States to begin a master’s degree in human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The 22-year-old is from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida, and was a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Her defence also states that she is not a boycott supporter, illustrated by her choice to study at an Israeli university.

“Today’s hearing will address the question of whether Ms Alqasem is a BDS activist or simply an intellectually curious student who has found herself the target of politicised thought-policing,” Alqasem’s
second lawyer, Leora Bechor said in a statement ahead of the hearing.

‘Keep fighting’

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’s detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case. She has been held in “not so good” conditions, in a closed area with little access to a telephone, no internet and a bed that was infested with bedbugs, according to her lawyers.

The Hebrew University has called on the authorities to allow her in to study and has supported her appeal.

Israel enacted a law last year banning any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” from entering the country. It also identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members can be denied entry upon arrival.

Ben-Hillel said the defence team argued that the law, which denies the entry of a wide variety of people into Israel, is “wrong and harms a lot of basic rights”.

In this case, however, they did not challenge the law itself, for which a petition has been submitted to the Supreme Court and is scheduled to be reviewed in March 2019.

“We challenged how they interpreted the law,” Ben-Hillel said.

Last week, Gilad Erdan, a senior Israeli minister 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.

He said he would be open to changing his position on the detention if Alqasem personally denounces the boycott of Israel.

But to Alqasem, the appeals process was a means to fight against what she perceives as unjust, instead of accepting deportation.

“She wanted to keep fighting,” Ben-Hillel, who spoke to Alqasem earlier this week, said. “This is important for her.”

Israel has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem’s case.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies