US bars Palestinian youth from studies at Harvard

A young man sits in front of awards on a shelf.

Ismail Ajjawi plans to study medicine at Harvard University. (Al-Araby)

US border officials detained, interrogated and eventually canceled the student visa of a young Palestinian on his way to Harvard University as an incoming freshman.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, a Palestinian refugee from southern Lebanon, was deported eight hours after he arrived at Boston Logan International Airport on 23 August.

In a recent interview, Ajjawi said he plans to study medicine.

In the same video shot before Ajjawi’s ordeal, the young scholar’s father expresses pride in his son’s achievements and hopes that he will be a role model for all Palestinians.

Ajjawi achieved the highest marks in Lebanon’s official high school exams in the country’s southern region.

According to The Harvard Crimson, Ajjawi was interrogated by Customs and Border Patrol agents who repeatedly questioned his personal religious practices, took his phone and laptop and scrutinized the political opinions of his friends on social media.

“When I asked every time to have my phone back so I could tell them about the situation, the officer refused and told me to sit back in [my] position and not move at all,” Ajjawi told the Crimson in a written statement.

“After the five hours ended, she called me into a room, and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.”

Such questioning tactics and denials of entry based on perceived political opinions and guilt by association are strikingly similar to what Palestinians and international human rights activists face at Ben Gurion airport when approached by Israeli border agents.
Many people expressed outrage at the actions of US border agents, using the hashtag #LetIsmailIn.
Ajjawi had won a scholarship to study at the prestigious university from AMIDEAST, a nonprofit that offers educational opportunities around the world for residents of the Middle East and North Africa.

The group is providing Ajjawi with legal assistance, while Harvard University says it is working to reinstate the student’s visa before classes begin next week.

After being expelled by Zionist militias in the late 1940s, many of the 800,000 ethnically cleansed Palestinians fled to Lebanon.

Today, Palestinian refugees continue to be barred from their original lands and homes seven decades later simply because they are not Jewish.

Attacks on right to education

Ajjawi’s ordeal comes in the context of aggressive attacks on Palestinians’ right to education, especially inside Palestine.

Last year, Israel began delaying or denying visas to academics and professors at Palestinian institutions who hold foreign passports, forcing many to leave the country or face the threat of removal from faculty positions.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have increased their violent attacks in or near Palestinian schools in the occupied West Bank.

The United Nations documented 111 “interferences to education” in the West Bank in 2018.




The Israelification of the United States continues apace. It's remarkable how many offices and functions of the U.S. government now take their mission from their Israeli counterparts, and even more remarkable that these shared techniques and technologies of repression are not linked in the public mind. If American mass media ever begin to inform the people of the facts behind the changes going on around them, they might be able to better discern where their country is headed.

The recent barring of two Congresswomen by Netanyahu corresponds precisely with the U.S. government's refusal to allow a Palestinian youth to attend Harvard. The criteria are the same, as are the "investigative" methods. And it's worth emphasizing that this student was treated exactly as he would have been had he tried to enter his homeland- complete with screaming invective. Attempting entry to the U.S. has become fraught with every form of danger, down to incarceration of entire families and indeed, nationalities, races and religions. Israel has perfected these mechanisms and sold them to its patron/client in the United States.

Today, three persons (Bezos, Gates and Buffet) control as much wealth in the United States as the bottom half of the population. Add to that the widening application of racial and religious discrimination, and you have a home-bred version of Israel itself- gross institutional inequality that can only be described as apartheid and can only be sustained by increasing levels of segregation, confinement, legal chicanery, repudiation of human rights commitments, and militarized policing.

The social laboratory that is Israel is producing dividends in the streets, on the borders and in the brutal heart of the empire. Those American politicians who so effusively pledge their loyalty to Israel don't just do it for the money. They genuinely believe that the Israeli model of government is the most efficient for the kind of world we're going to be living in.


Is there a petition or other online action we can take to express our abhorrence of how Ismail was treated and to demand that his visa be reinstated? What is Harvard doing? What ICE is doing here must be illegal; how can they get away with this?

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).