Israel targets Palestinian-American human rights activist for deportation

By John Wagner, Convener of United Methodist Kairos Response
The following article comes to Unbound in response to our recent coverage of the divestment debate, brought before the United Methodist General Conference earlier in May and coming before the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly at the end of this month for a vote.
Sandra Tamari, right, at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, alongside Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Sandra Tamari, right, at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, alongside Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Sandra Tamari is a Palestinian-American from Glen Carbon, Illinois, and a Christian. In getting to know her this past year I found her to be gracious and accepting, really the quintessential representative of her particular faith tradition, the Quakers.

Because the United Methodist Church has been attempting to respond to the call of Christians in the Holy Land for help in finding non-violent solutions to the conflict there, she agreed to make some calls to our elected delegates prior to our General Conference in May. She urged them to vote for the resolution to divest from companies supporting the occupation of Palestine, and reported enjoying her conversations—so much so that she decided to go to Tampa for a few days herself as part of the effort to pass a divestment resolution.

She was a wonderful presence. When I asked her impressions of the United Methodists she’d met, she said, “I was moved… they were truly open people who hold deep compassion for the suffering of the Palestinians. I felt truly welcomed.” Along with a Jewish and a Muslim friend she also wrote an op-ed for the local paper, the Tampa Bay Times. We were so very grateful for her support, but then, shockingly, a few weeks later she was pulled out of line at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, and treated like a potential terrorist. A press release detailed how she was treated at the airport:

Sandra Tamari, a Quaker, mother of two, and member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, was detained at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport last week and aggressively questioned for over eight hours before being taken to a detention center and deported back to the United States. During questioning, Israeli security demanded she open her personal email account and accused her of being a terrorist.

Requesting help from the US Embassy, Tamari – a U.S. citizen – was immediately asked if she is Jewish. When told that she was Palestinian, Tamari was advised they could do nothing for her…

Tamari, a vocal advocate for Palestinian rights and the ending of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, was attempting to travel to Israel and the occupied West Bank to participate in an interfaith delegation involving Palestinians and Israelis working for peace and coexistence.  She was recently involved in the campaign urging the United Methodist church to adopt selective divestment from companies that profit from the occupation, co-authoring a widely circulated op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last month during the United Methodists’ General Conference. It seems clear that Israel’s treatment of Tamari is related to her work on behalf of Palestinian rights.
(The rest of the press release can be read here.)

No one else from Sandra’s delegation was deported. I fear that Sandra’s simple agreement to engage United Methodists on the issue of selective divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation contributed to Israel’s singling her out for deportation. As one of the leaders in this movement, it is very distressing to think she was punished for simply trying to educate and help United Methodists do the right thing in Tampa. As an American citizen, I’m angered that a fellow citizen would receive such treatment from a supposed ally.

Like the rest of those supporting divestment at General Conference, I was quite disappointed the divestment resolution failed. It’s clear our church is still divided on the particulars of divesting our pension funds. Even so, by our decision to boycott products produced by illegal settlements, we are now declaring more firmly than ever that the occupation of Palestine is unjust. We are standing with oppressed people, which is what I believe Christ would have us do. As we talked after her deportation, I could tell that Sandra is hopeful that the Christian community in the United States—the liberals, the conservatives, the moderates—is beginning to see and understand what’s really happening in the land we all call holy.

Sign a petition supporting Sandra.
Learn more about the United Methodist Kairos Response.
Read “The Win We Didn’t Expect” by John Wagner in response to the decisions of the UMC General Conference, while mapping a way forward.
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