Israel Supreme Court sides with American student facing deportation

B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad left next to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour at a session of the UN Security Council

A United States student who has been detained at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport since the start of October will be allowed into enter the country, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, according to local and global media.

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.

The case of Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old Florida native who argued against her deportation order in three court hearings, leaves a question mark over the law, passed in 2017, that takes aim at the worldwide BDS movement - a loose affiliation of groups that call to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law", said Alqasem attorney Leora Bechor.

The government had argued it had the right to prevent Ms Alqasem from entering based on a controversial 2017 law which bars entry of foreign nationals who support boycotts against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Although she was free to return to the US, Alqasem made a decision to challenge the ban and remained in detention at Ben Gurion Airport for over two weeks.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the request to hear Alqasem's appeal.

The court accepted Lara Alqasem's appeal, saying her desire to study in Israel undermines the premise of her alleged support for a boycott.

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"In this case, denying the applicant's entry does not advance the objective of the law, and it is argued, for example, by the Hebrew University that it harms Israeli academia", it said, going on to criticise the immigration authorities. She insists she no longer participates in boycott activities and promises not to engage in boycott activities in the future.

"I will be happy to say more when I've had a chance to rest and process", she added.

"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.

The Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry relies on tips from informants and social media snooping to identify BDS activists.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, whose ministry is tasked with enforcing the law, called the ruling a "disgrace".

"The fight against boycotts is fitting and vital, as are the actions taken by the State of Israel on the matter".

"Where is our national pride?"

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Alqasem is registered for a master's program in human rights, said they look forward to welcoming her to classes next week.

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