For decades, Israel has mistreated US citizens, killing and severely injuring both human rights defenders and young Palestinian Americans spending time with their families in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In addition, Israel has systematically discriminated against US citizens on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and political viewpoint by denying them entry to Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory it controls. This discrimination has impacted Palestinian Americans most severely, denying them opportunities to visit, work, and live in their homeland, and interfering in their family life.
Instead of robustly defending the rights of US citizens and advocating on their behalf when their human rights are abused by Israel—the largest recipient of US military aid at $3.8 billion per year—the Department of State and Congress have fallen woefully short, often deferring to flawed Israeli investigations and failing to hold Israel accountable for its violations of US laws designed to promote human rights.
Since 2003, Israeli forces have killed at least three US citizens. An Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer repeatedly ran over and crushed to death Rachel Corrie as she stood to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished. Israeli naval commandos executed Furkan Doğan, shooting him at point blank range, aboard a ship in international waters whose passengers were attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip. And teenager Mahmoud Shaalan was shot and killed while walking away from an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank after trying unsuccessfully to visit his aunt’s house.
Also since 2003, Israeli forces have gravely injured at least four US citizens. Brian Avery, Tristan Anderson, and Emily Henochowicz were all shot in the face—the former with a bullet, the latter two with high-velocity tear gas canisters—and suffered life-altering injuries. Israeli police brutally beat teenager Tariq Abukhdeir after arresting and handcuffing him.
No member of Israel’s security forces served jail time for killing or injuring US citizens and there were only two known cases of victims receiving compensation. Despite Israel’s unwillingness to hold itself accountable, the United States did not conduct its own investigation into any of these incidents, much less hold Israel accountable for killing and injuring US citizens.
US citizens who are denied entry by Israel fare no better. Palestinian Americans who are denied entry by Israel are often told by the US Embassy that there is nothing that can be done on their behalf despite Israeli treaty obligations guaranteeing US citizens freedom to travel.
This policy paper concludes by offering policy recommendations to the administration and Congress to ensure that the United States defends and advocates for the human rights of its citizens when they are abused by Israel. These include:
Holding Israel accountable for potential violations of the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act, as well as holding accountable particular military units and individuals under the terms of the “Leahy Laws” and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
The United States should also conduct its own independent investigations into Israel’s human rights abuses of US citizens rather than rely upon Israel’s structurally flawed system of investigating itself.
Finally, the United States should ensure that Israel stops discriminating against US citizens by denying entry to people based on their ethnicity, religion, or political viewpoint as required by its treaty obligations, and continue to deny Israel entry into the Visa Waiver Program as long as this discrimination persists.