Refused Entry

A BIRMINGHAM woman who was part of a nine-woman delegation thrown out of Israel on a charitable visit to help the people of Palestine has vowed she will continue her work despite her ordeal.

Salma Iqbal, a Respect party member, spoke to The Asian Today hours after she and her fellow delegation members flew back into Birmingham having been turned away at Tel Aviv airport in Israel.

Her fellow group members, which included Selly Oak MP Dr Lynne Jones, were on a trip to the West Bank as part of a special charity trip aiming to build links between Ramallah and the West Midlands following fundraising efforts by Birmingham’s Ramallah Twinning Committee.

But less than 48 hours after leaving Birmingham airport, they were put on a plane back to the UK having been denied entry into Israel without any explanation from authorities at Tel Aviv airport.

What makes Salma’s treatment more remarkable however is that she was part of a similar Birmingham Ramallah twinning committee delegation last May who were also denied entry into Israel and put back on a plane without given any explanations.

This time round the committee had sought assurances from the Israeli embassy about the visit, holding numerous meetings with officials from the embassy.

Speaking to the Asian Today, Ms Iqbal said the experience had left her “angry”.

“I’m very angry because of the procedure we had followed. It was all above board and we had told them the truth but they still chose to deport us”, she said.

“Our intentions were honourable in that we were taking over funds that we had raised as well as a selection of children’s books that had been specially donated by Birmingham library.”

The delegation visit was organised by the Birmingham Ramallah Twinning committee following a number of fundraising events to aid a refugee camp in the area.

The group had intended to deliver a number of children’s books which had been generously donated by Birmingham library as well as using donated money to help develop a nursery which was in need of vast improvement.

The twinning committee’s chairman, Kamel Hawwash hit out at the Israeli authorities saying the trip had been discussed at length with the Israeli Embassy in London in light of the deportation of a similar group last May.

He told The Asian Today he was “shocked” at the way the group had been treated at Tel Aviv airport.

“We were very shocked when we heard the news because this is the second time we have attempted to do this and both times we have been unable to complete our charity work because of the Israelis”, he said.

He said the committee had provided extensive information to the Israeli embassy including names, passport numbers and a whole itinerary of the visit in the months leading up to the visit.

“We had no inclination that there would be a repeat of last year. They [Israeli embassy] said that they could never guarantee anything but I guess that’s what any country would say”, he added.

“The point here is that this was a specific issue that we dealt with through them and they could easily have said we are not going to allow the group in but they didn’t.”

Mr Hawwash said the event cast a cloud of suspicion on the Israeli authorities.

“These are ordinary, peaceful women going out to work with women and children so the only conclusion one can come up with is that Israel does not want anyone to have contact with the Palestine people and to be witness to what they do in the occupied territories otherwise why not let them in”.

Ms Iqbal said the groups deportation was down to racism saying it was clear from what she saw at the airport that Israeli authorities were very selective in who they allowed into the country.

Describing her ordeal, she said: “MP Lynne Jones was our delegation leader and informed the officials at passport control she was part of group visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. Her passport was stamped and was told she could go.

“Another member of our party who was a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab was told to stand to one side. Some of the other group members, including myself, had actually been part of the group who had been denied entry last May and were also told to stand to one side. When they realised we were all part of the same group were we all led away, including Lynne Jones who had already had her passport stamped.

Ms Iqbal accused the authorities of operating a “racist policy”.

“The fact that one of the party members, Taira who wears a Hijab, was stopped was blatant racism”, she said.

“She has visited the Middle East on various occasions and the stamps on her passport indicated this. Just looking at the waiting area was an obvious indication as to their policy. The sort of people that were being stopped were Muslims and there were very few non-Asians who were being targeted. It was very much a racist policy. One of the women who was part of the delegation last year had since had a new passport and they actually allowed her to go through this time. It was absurd”.

But she vowed the experience would not deter her from working to improve the lives of the Palestinian people in Ramallah.

She said: “We are going to continue our work and this latest incident is definitely not going to deter us. This is a twinning initiative so we are going to raise funds to help bring some of the children in the refugee camp over to Birmingham. We want to do a Summer Palestinian children’s camp next summer so by all means our work has not finished and wont finish because of the actions of the Israeli authorities.

“We will continue to promote the initiative of twinning with Ramallah and are not going to get deterred by the Israeli officials harassing us at their airport.”

Although the event may have forced the Birmingham Ramallah Twinning Committee to rethink how future visits will be conducted, Mr Hawwash admitted they were determined to make sure charitable projects in the area were undertaken for the sake of the Palestinian people.

“We are very determined to carry them out because part of the trip was to work in a refugee camp to help develop a library for them and as you can imagine the people there and the children there are very excited and we are not going to let this stop us from making this a reality for them. In the end it is these people who are losing out”.


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