Lara Alqasem’s legal team says Israel’s Supreme Court has overturned the US student’s deportation order, allowing her to study in Israel.
Alqasem, who is of Palestinian descent, had been held at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport – despite having a valid visa – for more than two weeks since arriving from the US to begin a master’s degree in human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was denied entry to Israel over her alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
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 stated that she is not a boycott supporter, as 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,” Leora Bechor, one of Alqasem’s lawyers said in a statement ahead of the hearing on Wednesday.
In a reaction, Hebrew University said it is looking forward to “welcoming our newest student, Lara Alqasem, as she begins her M.A. in Human Rights & Transitional Justice at our law school next week”.
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 was the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case. She was 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 had 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.
Yotam Ben-Hillel, Alqasem’s second lawyer, 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”.
“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 was criticised for its handling of Alqasem’s case.
A group of some 300 international academics published a statement in the Guardian decrying Israel’s action as “an attack on academic freedom” and calling for Alqasem to be allowed to pursue her studies at the Hebrew University.
J Street, a US advocacy group working to promote a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, published an open letter to Gilad Erdan saying the action taken against Alqasem showed the “deeply counterproductive and anti-democratic nature” of the Israeli government’s approach to BDS and to criticism of its policies.
Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli historian and journalist, wrote in the Washington Post that Alqasem’s case was “part of a trend by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to turn law enforcement, and the law itself, into tools for policing opinions”.