A British Palestinian man has been denied entry to Israel under its controversial law banning supporters of the boycott movement.
Professor Kemal Hawwash, of Birmingham University, was attempting to visit relatives in east Jerusalem with his wife and five-year-old son for the Easter holidays when he was detained.
Professor Hawwash left his family in tears as he was forced to fly back to the UK, an experience he said left him “personally devastated”.
He told The Independent he fears he may never be able to see elderly relatives living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories again.
“I go regularly every year to visit my family,” he said, “so this was not an out of the ordinary visit.
“Whenever I go it is for family visits, I don’t undertake any political work while I’m out there.”
Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), was the first British citizen to be refused entry to Israel under the law, which bans anyone found to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering the country.
Professor Hawwash said he was taken away by an officer a few minutes after he presented his passport at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
“I was clearly on a wanted list. He had a pile of papers, he was pointing to tweets they said I had written. They were clearly ready for me.”
Professor Hawwash said the officer told him: “We have a problem with you.”
After telling the officer he had been vice-chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign until January and was now on its executive committee, he was accused of being part of an “anti-Israel organisation”.
The officer then questioned him about some posts on his Twitter feed, which apparently glorified Palestinian terrorists, but Professor Hawwash said the tweets he was shown had been translated into Hebrew.
He said he asked to see the English originals before he would comment.
When asked for comment, the Israeli embassy in London accused Professor Hawwash of praising “the perpetrators of terror as martyrs”.
“Israel is seeking a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians. Those who promote extremism should not be allowed to foment their hatred in Israel.”
Professor Hawwash said his “heart sank” when he was given a document citing Israeli law barring him from entry.
His wife and five-year-old son were allowed to enter Israel, but he was put on a plane to Brussels around 12 hours after his initial questioning and told he would need to apply for permission to visit in the future.
“A couple of hours before the flight I was taken for a full body search,” he added, “even though I had just come from Birmingham and Brussels and hadn’t been out of the airport. Just part of their humiliation practice.”
“Upon arrival in Brussels I was handed over to the Belgian police. You’re made to feel like a criminal.”
He said he was “personally devastated” and feared he would not be able to see elderly relatives if he was not allowed entry in the future.
“When she heard from my wife that I wasn’t going to be allowed in, my mother-in-law actually said: ‘That means I’m not going to see Kamel before I die.’”
Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, said it was “utterly shocking” Professor Hawwash was denied entry.
He said: “Following the Knesset’s decision to pass the new entry restrictions I had already been in touch with the government and the Israeli Embassy over how this ban would affect people living in Britain.
“My constituent Kamel Hawwash is being denied entry not only to Israel, but to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and access to his family – it is utterly shocking that now he may never see them again.
“The relaxed attitude our ministers are showing to Israel’s actions is scandalous. Human rights defenders in Israel have rightly spoken out against this new law preventing peaceful campaigners from visiting their country.
“It is time for British ministers to speak out too.”
Ben Jamal, director of the PSC, said: “The bottom line is that Israel is using its new boycott law to ban foreign human rights activists.
“The BDS movement peacefully pressures Israel to comply with international law and cease human rights violations. It draws directly from the tactics of Gandhi and Mandela to effect positive change.
“According to the Israeli government, human rights activism is a security threat. Fundamental democratic norms and freedoms don’t matter.
“The British government must demand that Israel ceases this harassment.”
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