Published: Fri, October 19, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Detained American Graduate Student Allowed To Study In Israel, Court Rules

Detained American Graduate Student Allowed To Study In Israel, Court Rules

The Israeli High Court ruled on Thursday to overturn the state's decision to deny entry to Lara Alqasem, the 22-year-old Palestinian-American Graduate student who has been in Israeli detention for 16 days at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Lara Alqasem's lawyers said she was released from Ben Gurion International airport, where she had been held in detention since arriving in the country October 2 with a valid student visa to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Last week, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected Alqasem's appeal, saying it could not justify intervening in the case and that the government's decision to detain her was reasonable, echoing a similar decision previously made by an administrative appeals court.

Alqasem's lawyer argued before the supreme court that the state should apply common sense when applying the law against BDS supporters.

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Israel passed a law in 2017 to bar entry to foreigners who support the BDS movement, which has been ongoing for more than a decade and aims to put economic pressure on Israel to support independence for Palestinians.

Justice Neal Hendel, one of three Supreme Court judges who heard the appeal, affirmed in the ruling that while the state has the authority to bar BDS activists from the country, the law was not applicable in Alqasem's case.

"I'm relieved at the court's decision and incredibly grateful for the work of my unbelievable and tireless lawyers Yotam Ben Hillel and Leora Bechor as well as the support of my family and friends", she told the Haaretz newspaper upon her release.

In court, Alqasem insisted that she has not participated in boycott activities for a year and a half, and promised not to engage in BDS in the future. "If this is truly the case, then we are talking about an extreme and risky step, which could lead to the crumbling of the pillars upon which democracy in Israel stands", the verdict continued.

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The Supreme Court reversed her deportation order Thursday, saying if Alqasem's expulsion was due purely to political opinion, the state's order represented "a radical and risky step" that could erode Israeli democracy.

Alqasem challenged the expulsion order for more than two weeks - the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case. "The principle that whoever acts to harm the State of Israel and its citizens should be refused entry must be preserved".

Alqasem's attorneys argued that her activities in Students for Justice in Palestine did not meet the legal test for the boycott law and that, in her role as president, she did not actively promote a boycott. The university said on Thursday that it "looks forward to welcoming our newest student, Lara Alqasem, as she begins her M.A.in Human Rights & Transitional Justice at our law school next week".

Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, whose ministry is charged with implementing and monitoring the law, said in a statement that the Supreme Court had "granted BDS a great victory". "Israel has the right to control its borders, but that right does not give it unchecked power to turn away anyone it deems unwanted".

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