On Saturday, April 30, 2022, greatly respected Palestinian attorney and human rights defender Ms. Sahar Francis arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to travel to Mexico City to attend and participate in the 2022 World Social Forum. Despite holding an Israeli passport with a U.S. visa valid through April 2023, she was prohibited from checking in to American Airlines flight AA 053, the first leg of a flight to Mexico City that transited through Miami, Florida. Having already passed through the first Israeli security check without incident, at the flight check-in counter, Ms. Francis was informed that she would not be allowed through U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening upon arrival at Miami International Airport and, thus, would not be allowed to check in or board the flight.
Ms. Francis is the General Director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organization, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Addameer, which advocates on behalf of Palestinian political prisoners and administrative detainees is one of the six prominent Palestinian human rights organizations declared “terrorist organizations” by the Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz over six months ago. In February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reaffirmed that the organizations “have worked for decades to promote human rights and provide critical humanitarian assistance in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and are key partners of the United Nations.”5 Bachelet declared that “[t]he designation decisions were based on vague and unsubstantiated reasons” and “OHCHR was not aware of any credible evidence to support these accusations.”
While Biden administration officials have repeatedly stated the administration strongly believes respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance, the administration itself has contributed to the shrinking of civic space by allowing the allegations to fester without taking a policy position concerning the Israeli designations. Six months on, State Department officials have an apparent policy of not communicating or engaging with the six Palestinian organizations, and State Department spokesperson Ned Price continues to repeat that administration officials are reviewing the information provided by Israeli authorities. In this context, Ms. Francis’ recent travel denial incident, without explanation, is understood as the latest escalation in a campaign to silence and eliminate legitimate and lawful human rights work by Palestinian civil society. It now appears that the Biden administration is acting on the Israeli government designations by denying Ms. Francis transit through the United States to Mexico City despite her holding an Israeli passport with a U.S. visa valid through April 2023.
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