American graduate student Lara Alqasem has been sitting in jail in Israel for a week now after she was accused of supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement upon arriving in the country.
Alqasem, 22, was thrown in jail despite having a valid student visa, as she was accepted into Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study human rights. Alqasem’s grandparents are Palestinian.
The BDS movement calls for an international boycott of products from Israel and divestment from Israeli companies in a bid to pressure the country into compliance with international law, particularly as it pertains to illegal settlements and human rights abuses.
Alqasem’s week-long detention is the longest yet for a BDS case. Israel enacted a law in 2017 banning foreigners who “knowingly issue a public call for boycotting Israel.” Some 20 activist groups were also banned from entering the country, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP.) Alqasem was formerly the president of the Florida State University chapter of SJP.
“We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” defense attorney Yotam Ben-Hillel said. “She’s not even part of the student organization anymore.”
“We will continue to see more of this. Palestinian organizers, activists, even non-Palestinians who support the plight of the Palestinians — we are constantly, constantly in every facet, in every sector of society berated, just silenced and erased by Zionist propaganda and Zionist strategies to silence the Palestinian voice,” Reem Zaitoon, the president of SJP at Florida State University, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear.
“It is a colonizer’s platform,” Zaitoon said. “So long as it creates this push back against students and organizers, there will be no peace.”
Alqasem is being held in custody until her appeal against her deportation order is settled. Hebrew University has thrown its support behind her.
Alqasem has complained of a bedbug infestation in the mattress she is using at the jail, according to people who have spoken to her. Her mother says that because of the restrictions on phone calls, Lara has felt cut off from the world.
“If Lara Alqasem will tomorrow, in her own voice, not through all kinds of lawyers or statements that can be misconstrued, say that support for BDS is not legitimate and she regrets what she did, we will certainly reconsider our position,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said. The Strategic Affairs Ministry is charged with responding to the BDS movement, which the Israeli government considers extremist and hateful.
Responding to that characterization of the movement, Zaitoon said that BDS is “nothing more than a political tool to weaken the oppressor. There is nothing that BDS has ever outlined in its entire standing that delineates any hate, any harm, any physical violence or assault to the Zionist entity. We work within BDS to weaken Zionist companies.”
“This language that’s being used against BDS organizers and against the BDS movement in general is inaccurate. It’s wrong, and it’s inapplicable,” she said. “It’s a matter of economics.”
“All this pushback” that Israel is engaging in against organizers of the BDS movement only weakens the Israeli case, Zaitoon concluded.