Photo Credit: Passport Index website
Israel, PA Passports

Regardless of the actual passport they carry, Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians like to cry that they are being wronged and discriminated against at every slight. This is not to deny the actual discrimination that ruins their lives, such as, for example, being forced to remain in refugee camps in Lebanon and being denied basic civil rights. But when celebrities make a big fuss over something that likely has nothing to do with being Palestinian and everything to do with laws countries have regarding who may enter their country and who may not, it gets ridiculous.

Without looking for it, I was fed the following post in my Facebook feed:

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This aroused my curiosity, firstly because Mohammad Bakri holds an Israeli passport (along with all the benefits that accrue from Israeli citizenship) even though he insists on being referred to as Palestinian. I wondered how he was going to bash Israel in this piece. He does not; this time, Egypt is the brunt of his anger. In the article, Bakri makes the following statement:

“Essentially, this was a reaction, in principle, to the mistreatment of Palestinian artists, regardless of their passport, whether it’s Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli, or whatever,” he continued.

“It is high time that Palestinians are granted full rights, like the rest of the world. This doesn’t only apply to Palestinian artists. I’m referring to all Palestinians.”

The source of his ire was the deportation of UK-based “Palestinian” film director Sa’id Zagha at Egyptian airport border control. In a separate article, Bakri refers to Zagha as a compatriot. While the Cambridge English Dictionary does say that the US definition for compatriot includes “friend or colleague”, the usual understanding of the word is fellow citizen of the same country. Palestine is not a country and never was so in this sense the term compatriot is misleading. While this is a small point, and I considered deleting it here as, perhaps, beside the point, on second thought I decided to leave it because the fact that there never was a Palestine, a fact that Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians want you to forget, is exactly the point.

In the article:

Zagha, who is based in the UK, told Variety that “there appears to be systemic mistreatment of Palestinians at Egyptian border control.”

Is this true? Is there systemic (does he mean ‘systematic’) mistreatment of Palestinians? I examined all the people mentioned in the variety of articles reporting on this issue.

Sa’id Zagha

Explaining in detail the source of the problem, we learn from Zagha that he:

. . . holds Jordanian and Palestinian passports and also has permanent residency status in the UK, [and he] believes the problem arose from the fact that his Jordanian passport is a so-called “T series” Jordanian passport that shows the holder is Palestinian and does not have full citizen rights.

Yes, you read that correctly — as a Palestinian he is discriminated against in Jordan. Jordan does this in order to preserve the refugee status of the Palestinians within her borders so that they never feel too Jordanian and forget that they are demanding a right of return to land Jordan lost for them in the war against Israel in 1967.

Zagha claims that the Egyptian consulate in London told him he does not need a visa. Yet he certainly understood long ago the limitations of the T-series passport. If he wanted to travel on his Palestinian passport, then a simple Wikipedia search would have showed him that he definitely needs  a visa. Zagha wisely concludes to wait a few years until he will become a British citizen and be able to travel on a British passport because his entrance to every other country will likely be rejected given the documents currently in his hand.

Ali Suliman

A citizen of Israel, it is not clear at all why Suliman was not let into Egypt at the airport in 2018 when he was invited to be on the panel of judges for the film festival. Examining his Wikipedia page, it seems he has not had trouble traveling either to act in movies filmed in other countries or to attend award ceremonies.

Ziad and Saleh Bakri

Both Ziad and Saleh are sons of Mohammad Bakri. Mohammad was born in northern Israel and Saleh in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. There is no birthplace recorded for Ziad but it is most likely he was also born in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. They all refer to themselves as Palestinians. It appears, in fact, that the brothers have Palestinian passports. It is unclear how they would get one since they apparently do not live in the PA and they were not born there.

In an article reporting on the Suliman incident, we get a very confusing picture regarding what happened at the Egyptian airport. Like, Suliman, Saleh was denied entry. He comments on prejudice he faces as a “Palestinian” with Israeli citizenship. He:

. . . said that an Egyptian filmmaker refused to work with him on a joint project because he was using an Israeli passport. But Egyptian authorities would not accept his Palestinian Authority passport either because he doesn’t have an ID, he added.

His ID, I suppose is the Israeli ID. Did he try to use his Israeli passport and ID?

Ziad did not even attempt to attend the festival, saying the festival administration “refused to assist them [he and his wife] with a visa on their Palestinian passport.” Again, an Israeli citizen trying to travel with Palestinian documents? And he does not expect trouble?

Ehab Abu al-Asal

Born in Nazareth, cinematographer Al-Asal also, obviously, has Israeli citizenship. He also calls himself a Palestinian. A 2014 media report of his deportation experience claims that he sought a visa at the Egyptian consulate in Ramallah and was told that, as a man over the age of 40 he does not need one. This turned out to be false, apparently. But does this statement mean that Al-Asal was living in the PA? Or did he just prefer to travel on a PA passport in order not to be categorized as Israeli?

The article was published in an Egyptian news site and subsequently also provides a window into the Egyptian perspective on this issue:

Independent cinema often struggles to gain the consent of authorities in Egypt. Permits for shooting are notoriously difficult to acquire, and often applications are rejected on the basis of how socially or politically sensitive the proposed production’s content is. In post-production the government also subjects films to censorship.

Could this hint at something else behind the deportations other than simply victimization of “Palestinians”? In fact, an article published at the time in alarab.com says that al-Asal was questioned repeatedly by Egyptian intelligence over ten hours. Does this suggest a mere visa problem?

Back to Mohammad Bakri

Could this “something else” be in any way related to the views Mohammad Bakri states clearly and unequivocally in this video? Of course, Bakri was apparently able to enter Egypt (but canceled his trip in solidarity with Zagha) but then he is, perhaps, unlike his sons, travelling on an Israeli passport. It is likely that Ziad and Saleh and perhaps the other “Palestinians” who were refused entry feel the same as Mohammed makes clear in this interview. Do they espress their feelings in interviews only, or do they do something else that has made Egypt nervous? No way to know.

Finally

In order to claim that Palestinian Arabs are being systematically denied entry into Egypt we would need to see evidence that businessmen, students, tourists, etc. are getting the same treatment as these film professionals received. It would also be important to know exactly what travel documents they had and whether or not the documents satisfied the criteria for entry into Egypt. After all, every country has their own laws regarding who is allowed in and no country should be faulted for insisting that those seeking entry satisfy these criteria. However, Palestinian Arabs who can attract the attention of the media will use whatever the can to say: “Poor downtrodden us!”

Feature Image Credit: Eman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

{Reposted from the author’s blog}

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Sheri Oz, owner of www.israeldiaries.com, is a retired family therapist exploring mutual interactions between politics and Israeli society.