he Israeli military arrested GW law student Fadi Kiblawi during a protest of the West Bank security fence last month, his family and friends said. The second-year law student was allegedly released the following day.
Kiblawi, a vocal Palestinian rights activist who is working as a researcher in East Jerusalem this summer, wrote in an e-mail that he was arrested on June 20 for entering a closed military zone.
In the letter, which Kiblawi sent to friends shortly after his release, he said he would no longer be allowed to enter the West Bank but could stay in East Jerusalem. Both areas, along with the Gaza Strip, are Israeli-controlled territories that Palestinians hope will form their sovereign state.
“The protest … was completely non-violent, not even a stone was picked up,” Kiblawi wrote in the e-mail. “However, the soldiers beat us, threw sound bombs at us and fired tear gas at us. The entire time I was in prison, my eyes were burning me from the amount of tear gas I sucked in.”
Officials at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the U.S. State Department said they could neither confirm nor deny that Kiblawi was arrested.
While the American Consulate in Jerusalem received reports that a U.S. citizen was arrested in the West Bank on June 20, officials there were unable to identify the detainee. Kiblawi, who has lived in the United States since the age of three, is an American citizen.
Friends and family members said Kiblawi was protesting Israel’s construction of a security fence in the West Bank. Israel has argued that the fence is needed to protect its citizens from suicide bombers coming from the West Bank, while others have called it an “apartheid wall” that is being used to take away Palestinian land.
Kiblawi’s mother, Nada, said she believes her son might have been targeted for arrest because he is an American.
“Fadi happens to be a tall guy, so he stands out,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Arlington, Va. “He happened to be at the front, and he happened to be speaking English and saying, ‘This is on illegal land. You’re killing the people of these villages.’ So basically they arrested him to silence the most obvious (person) who is looking like an American, who is supposed to be their ally.”
Nada Kiblawi, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp, said she is proud of her son for supporting Palestinian statehood but worries about him visiting a country besieged by daily acts of terrorism.
“I was against his visit to Jerusalem,” she said. “It’s a dangerous place. I’m his mom, but you know kids. They don’t listen to their parents.”
No stranger to controversy, Kiblawi organized a divestment conference while he was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in 2002 to urge the school to cut financial ties to Israel. A lawsuit was filed prior to the conference in an attempt to block it.
The suit pointed out that in the University of Michigan publication Al-Risalah, Kiblawi wrote about his desire to “strap a bomb to one’s chest and kill” and declared that “the enemy is not just overseas, the enemy is also amongst us.” The suit also alleged that the conference’s keynote speaker, Sam Al-Arian, was affiliated with the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad.
On CNN’s “Talkback Live” in 2002, Kiblawi dismissed the lawsuit as baseless, saying he was a non-violent pacifist and that plaintiff Rick Dorfman needed “to seek mental health.” The suit failed to stop the conference.
Kiblawi, who wrote several guest columns for The Hatchet last year, continued to voice his support for divestment while at GW, comparing his cause to the one against South African’s apartheid regime.