Groups protest Israel's decision to deny entry of Michigan student of Palestinian descent

DETROIT (AP) — Israel has denied entry to a Detroit university student of Palestinian descent traveling there for a study-abroad program. Arab-American and civil rights groups plan to protest the decision Thursday.

Abeer Afana, a 21-year-old Wayne State University student, was detained May 16 at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv as she tried to enter the country on her U.S. passport. She was then returned to the United States.

U.S.-born Afana of the Detroit suburb of Novi was part of a monthlong program designed to examine conflict and cooperation among Israelis and Palestinians. Seven other American students were admitted, including Jews and Arabs.

Afana was sent home because her parents were from the Gaza Strip and she had once held a Palestinian passport.

In Tel Aviv, Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told The Associated Press that Afana was told she had to enter Israel from Jordan, via the Allenby Crossing, because she is a Palestinian with a Palestinian identity number. She said it does not matter that the student was born in the U.S.

"Anyone with an active Palestinian identity number ... has to go through Allenby," Haddad said. "It was not a denial of entry in principle," she said, adding that the rule has been in effect for "many years."

The U.S. Department of State's consular affairs website warns travelers that Israel will "consider as Palestinian anyone who has a Palestinian identification number, was born in the West Bank or Gaza, or was born in the United States but has parents or grandparents who were born or lived in the West Bank or Gaza."

It says such Americans must travel to Israel using their Palestinian passports, regardless of their U.S. citizenship, and that they "may be barred from entering or exiting Israel, the West Bank or Gaza."

The Palestine Cultural Office, Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, National Lawyers Guild and other organizations said they would hold a news conference Thursday afternoon at Detroit's U.S. courthouse. Afana plans to attend.

Afana told The Associated Press Thursday that neither her family nor the university anticipated problems because she is a U.S. citizen with a valid passport. Her family, which immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1980s, previously traveled to Gaza through Egypt.

"I didn't even know about Jordan until I got home," she said. "For me it was just like question after question about me, my family. ... No one gave me any alternatives. It was straight from interrogation to getting my bags."

Afana said the two other Arab students also were interrogated but allowed through. One student is also of Palestinian descent but Afana believes her family came from the West Bank and she did not have a Palestinian passport.

She said the trip is "the opportunity of a lifetime to go and learn about the other side," and "see what I can do to promote peace and coexistence and tolerance."

Afana said her father paid for the trip, and that the university is working to get the money refunded.

Bob Thomas, Wayne State's dean of liberal arts and sciences, said the university is "meticulous" about ensuring that students are traveling on valid passports.

"We want to do things correctly. We are trying to do things in good faith," Thomas said.

Thomas said Afana is an ideal candidate for the program, which has students interacting with Israelis and Palestinians.

"She's exactly the kind of student we hope will be involved," he said.

"We've consciously tried to involve students from the various backgrounds that are representative of our region and that region," he said.

The university said in a statement that officials have asked members of Michigan's Congressional delegation to look into the matter.


Associated Press writer Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.