Law change traps Lakeland children in Israel
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09/05/07 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The Yacoub family of Lakeland has been split apart because of a controversial Israeli travel policy that makes it difficult or impossible for Palestinian Americans to fly through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

On Aug. 18, the family was at the airport attempting to return home to Lakeland after spending the summer with relatives and attending the weddings of two sons in the West Bank.

This afternoon at the Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the four members of the family who were allowed to leave Israel spoke about their experiences.

Wedad Yacoub is the mother of 11 children, seven of whom were not allowed to return with her to America, and are staying with relatives in the West Bank.

“We tried to leave on the 18th. We tried to make our flight on Continental; me and my 10 kids. They gave me a choice, either you leave with the youngest three kids … or I can go back with your other kids [to West Bank to get a Palestinian passport] … and travel through Jordan …”

A controversial and poorly publicized Israeli policy has apparently been instituted this year. It seems to treat American citizens who were born in the United States but whose parents have lived in Palestine differently from everyone else.

Israel considers them to be Palestinian residents with respect to travel inside of Israel. Travel rights for residents of Palestine are severely restricted in Israel, including Ben Gurion International Airport. Because Israel controls airspace above the West Bank and Gaza, Ben Gurion is the closest international airport for Palestinians.

Wedad Yacoub was concerned that Israelis only prohibit people of Palestinian background from traveling, even though the children were born in America.

“I think that’s unfair ... I’m an American citizen, my kids were all born in America. …”

Ahmed Bedier is executive director of CAIR-Tampa and co-host of the WMNF program True Talk. He said Israel's policy Israel does not represent democracy.

CAIR wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Aug. 29 asking for the State Department to convince Israel to allow the children of this American family to return home.

CAIR has also asked for help from a branch of the U.S. State Department, American Citizen Services in Jerusalem, but this morning an unsigned email from that office said that they could not be of assistance. “This is local travel policy and law” the email said, seeming to blame the Palestinian-Americans for not knowing about the policy banning them from Ben Gurion Airport.

Wedad Yacoub disagreed with the principle of scrutinizing only a single group, people with Palestinian heritage, as a potential security threat.

Palestine Yacoub is the 20-year-old daughter of Wedad. This summer, she was refused entry to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, but she chose not to fly to Jordan after returning to the U.S. She missed the weddings of her two brothers.

Rani Yacoub, 10, is the oldest child that was allowed to travel back to the U.S. with his mother. He says that he felt “pretty bad” that Israel kept seven of his brothers and sisters from returning home.

“I hope they come back. All of them.”

The mother, Wedad Yacoub, says she hopes one day Palestinian-Americans will be able to travel through the airport in Tel Aviv.

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