US student asks court to allow her entry into Israel

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US student Lara Alqasem (C) appears at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
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American Lara Alqasemsits in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Updated 12 October 2018
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US student asks court to allow her entry into Israel

  • Lara Alqasem, whose father is Palestinian, arrived in Israel with a valid student visa and was registered to study human rights at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
  • She was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she is an activist in the boycott movement

TEL AVIV: An American graduate student who has been held in detention while fighting an expulsion order over her involvement in the boycott movement against Israel appeared in court on Thursday, asking a judge to allow her to enter the country to begin her studies.

It was the first time that Lara Alqasem has appeared in public since she was stopped at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Oct. 2.

Alqasem, 22, appeared calm during the hearing, her hands folded on her knees. She kept quiet and stared straight ahead, at first struggling to suppress a giddy smile when swarmed by reporters and photographers.

She is to remain in detention until the court delivers its written verdict in the coming days. The judge gave no indication which way he would lean or when he would make his decision.

“I think we have a good case. The state’s argument and evidence was weak, but I’ve learned not to be optimistic,” her lawyer Yotam Ben-Hillel said, referring to a court’s rejection of Alqasem’s first appeal.

The 22-year-old American, whose father is Palestinian, arrived in Israel with a valid student visa and was registered to study human rights at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she is an activist in the boycott movement.

Israel has said that she is not being held against her will and is free to leave the country. It also has said it would reconsider its decision if she apologizes and renounces the boycott movement.

Israel enacted a law last year banning entry for any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” It has come under heavy criticism for its handling of Alqasem’s case.

Alqasem, from Southwest Ranches, Florida, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group is a branch of the BDS movement, whose name comes from its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

Asher Fredman, a senior official in the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which oversees Israel’s anti-BDS efforts, said that Alqasem was being denied entry because of her past activities, not her opinions.

“We have clear criteria,” he said. “We believe that Miss Alqasem meets those criteria based on her actions, and the actions of the organization of which she was a senior leader over several years.”

Alqasem’s lawyers say that she is no longer engaged in BDS activity, and has promised not to promote it in the future. They claim her involvement in what they say is a small and insignificant chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine does not warrant Israel’s deportation order.

Ben-Hillel told the court that his client had come to Israel to learn Hebrew and study the Holocaust and other issues.

Former professors have described her as a curious and open-minded student. Jewish groups in the US as well as the Hebrew University, where she is registered to pursue a master’s degree in human rights, have also flocked to her defense.

A Hebrew University lawyer and two opposition lawmakers testified in her defense, saying the government’s tough stance was wrong and hurting the country’s image abroad.


Canada to resettle group of Syrian White Helmets

Updated 20 October 2018
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Canada to resettle group of Syrian White Helmets

  • Canada has supported the work of the White Helmets by helping them to expand, train more volunteers, train more women and save more lives
  • Jordan said a group of 279 Syrian rescue workers has left the kingdom for resettlement in Western countries

OTTAWA: Canada is preparing to welcome a group of Syrian White Helmets rescuers, officials said on Friday, without specifying when they will be resettled.
“Together with a core group of international allies, Canada is working to resettle a group of White Helmets and their families after they had to flee Syria as a result of being specifically targeted by the Syrian regime and its backer, Russia,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in a joint statement.
“As first responders, the White Helmets have witnessed first-hand some of the most appalling crimes committed by the murderous Assad regime. Canada has supported the work of the White Helmets by helping them to expand, train more volunteers, train more women and save more lives,” they said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In July, following the evacuation of 400 White Helmets from Syria to Israel and then to Jordan, Canada announced that it was ready to accommodate 50 of them and their families, for a potential total of 250 people.
Jordan said Wednesday a group of 279 Syrian rescue workers has left the kingdom for resettlement in Western countries.
Founded in 2013, the Syrian Civil Defense, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.