NEW YORK—In response to the news that Palestinian-American writer Susan Abulhawa was detained by immigration officials at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and then deported, PEN America expressed concern that freedom of movement and association—specifically the opportunity to engage with fellow writers at literary events—are being denied to individuals because of their views.

Abulhawa had been scheduled to appear as a featured guest at the Kalimat Palestinian Literature Festival held over the weekend in East Jerusalem. According to news reports, she was detained by Israeli immigration authorities at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv upon arrival on November 1. After 36 hours of detainment, during which she appealed the decision to the Supreme Court but was rejected, Abulhawa was deported back to the United States, where she is a citizen and resides. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority stated that the refusal was not related to her visit, but because she had not made an arrangement to enter Israel in advance, apparently a condition explained verbally to her during a previous attempt to enter the country in July 2015, where she had been subject to similar treatment for “refusing to cooperate” during a 7.5-hour interrogation. Abulhawa and her supporters believe that her treatment is more likely related to her criticism of the Israeli government and her outspoken support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. United States citizens do not normally need a visa to enter Israel, or to make advance arrangements for cultural visits.

“We are greatly alarmed that an invited guest to a literary festival was unable to attend and speak at an event intended to celebrate Palestinian literary traditions and to encourage the exchange of ideas between writers and readers,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of PEN America’s Free Expression At Risk Programs. “Abulhawa’s deportation continues a rising pattern of the suppression and punishment of critical voices by the Israeli government. We call on Israel to uphold its constitutional protections for free expression and to allow Abulhawa to enter Israel freely.”

In recent months, there have been a number of other deportations or attempted deportations of individuals seemingly based on their support for viewpoints that the Israeli government does not agree with, including writer Peter Beinart, student Lara Alqasem, and activist Simone Zimmerman. Additionally, critical voices within Israel are under increasing threat of censorship or legal reprisal. PEN America has advocated on behalf of Israeli citizens such as the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who was prosecuted for her poetry and online speech and spent more than two years in jail before being released in September 2018.   


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]