How one Palestinian citizen challenged Israel’s ‘enemy state’ policy

Majd Kayyal’s right to travel and participate in a conference in Beirut is far more important than his right to fulfill his role as a journalist. That right belongs to him as a human being, an Arab and a Palestinian who has absorbed the cultural richness of Lebanon’s capital.

By Salah Mohsen

The release of Majd Kayyal, journalist and web editor at Adalah, after five days of detention and complete isolation from the outside world – without the right to meet with an attorney or have his case heard due to a sweeping gag order – proves that his detention by Israeli security authorities was a retaliatory act meant to deter other Palestinian citizens of Israel from travelling to Lebanon. It had nothing to do with investigative purposes. Even the attempt to falsely charge Majd with contacting a foreign agent was designed to intimidate and divert any discussion on the right of Palestinians to have relations and professional ties with Lebanon.

The main problem is not that Majd Kayyal went to Lebanon. The problem is the law that prevents and criminalizes him for it. Israel’s definition of Lebanon as an “enemy state” does not make it so for Palestinian citizens. We refuse to see As-Safir or other Lebanese newspapers as hostile. We also do not see the need to find out if every journalist we speak to belongs to a particular political organization before we agree to exchange a word with them.

Majd is one of 100 young journalists from across the Arab world that write for As-Safir al-Arabi, the magazine section of the newspaper that aims to foster a new generation of Arab journalists. They publish articles and in-depth analyses on the political and social issues facing the countries and societies in which they live. It is a great privilege to be among those writers, and it is an especially great opportunity for Majd – one that a Palestinian citizen of Israel cannot obtain in places other than in so-called “enemy states.”

The comparison between Majd and other Israeli journalists who traveled to “enemy states” and were not detained upon their return is an important one to highlight. It proves the real intention behind his arrest, which has no connection to issues of security. But we should also qualify this comparison. Even if Israeli journalists did not travel to these countries, and even if they were detained and interrogated upon their return, it should not detract from the right of Palestinian Arabs to visit Lebanon. We are not reinventing the wheel by stating this: international law clearly enshrines the right of national minorities to communicate with and nurture their relationship with members of their nation, even those outside the borders of their state.

For me, Majd’s right to travel and participate in a conference in Beirut is far more important than his right to freedom of occupation and the fulfillment of his role as a journalist. That right is much more fundamental. It should be guaranteed to him regardless of him being a daring and bright journalist. That right belongs to him as a human being, an Arab and a Palestinian who absorbed the cultural richness that Beirut generously provided and continues to provide us.

Beirut is part of the cultural, political and intellectual complexity that exists within Majd and every Palestinian and Arab in the world. Beirut’s part in developing our cultural and political identity is far greater and deeper than that of Tel Aviv. Even if it seems obvious, it is important to state that, in my eyes, Fairuz is more important than Shlomo Artzi, and Constantin Zureiq is more important than Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber. The ethnic divisions in Lebanon influence the social fabric of Nazareth more than the struggles between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim in Israel. Whoever ignores this fact will never be able to understand the formation and development of our cultural and national identities, nor the complex reality in which they exist.

It seems that Majd has begun an important struggle that we must continue in order to remove the arbitrary and absurd laws that prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from visiting and maintaining their ties to the Arab world.

And for that I say: Thank you Majd, thank you Beirut.

Salah Mohsen is the Media Director at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. This article first appeared in Hebrew on Haokets.