Vigil

Lara Alqasem, a member of the Radical Students Alliance and then-UF political science sophomore, speaks during a candlelight vigil in support of refugees in 2015. “You only leave home when home is the mouth of a shark,” she said. “No one puts their children on boats unless the boat is safer than the land.”

After being detained in Israel since Tuesday, UF alumna Lara Alqasem will be deported.

Alqasem’s initial appeal to a judge to be allowed entry into Israel was denied, the Consul General of Israel to Florida Lior Haiat said. Alqasem appealed again and the judge will make a decision today. Alqasem was held at the airport on her way into the country to study for allegedly participating in nonviolent protests of Israeli companies. 

The results of Alqasem’s second appeal were published at 9 a.m. Israeli time, which was 2 a.m. in Gainesville, Haiat said.

She was already heard at the local court and is now appealing to a regional one. The next step would be the national court, however, Haiat said it’s unlikely for someone to be heard by the national court unless the matter is urgent or would result in an irreversible decision.

After the hearing with the judge, it’s only a matter of time before Alqasem boards a flight out of Israel, he said. 

Two months before Alqasem went to Israel, she applied for a student visa at the Consulate General of Israel in Miami. Although Alqasem got a visa from the Consulate General office, once the Israeli government realized Alqasem was previously involved in an activity that is banned in Israel, the boycott, divest and sanctions movement, they denied her entry, Haiat said. The visa was initially issued because of a letter from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which Haiat said is standard.

Alqasem, 22, was offered a flight back to Miami paid for by the Israeli government after her first appeal was denied, but she refused, Haiat said.

Alqasem graduated from UF in May with bachelor’s degrees in international studies and Arabic and was accepted into a master’s program at the university with a scholarship, said Grace Chun, a 22-year-old 2018 UF psychology alumna and former co-worker of Alqasem’s. 

The situation is horrible and unfair, Alqasem’s friend and 22-year-old UF international studies senior William Christou said.

“It’s always been her dream to be in a program like this,” Christou said. “She’s always been passionate about Israel, Palestine and helping solve the issue.”

Alqasem is not actively engaged in any BDS movement and only wants to go to Israel to study, Christou said.

“She was going to Israel to further her education and help make the world a better place, and she was put through a pretty harrowing situation,” Christou said. 

A person can disagree with the values of the Israeli government, Haiat said, but the decision was made because Alqasem was allegedly involved with BDS, a movement that is considered anti-semitic in Israel.

“It makes it ironic that she supports BDS, but wants to study in the university and country she boycotts,” Haiat said.

Since 2017, involvement in the BDS movement will cause someone to be kept from the country, Haiat said. He said it seemed like Alqasem wanted to promote BDS during her time in Israel. 

“It wasn’t just an innocent student going to study in Israel,” Haiat said.

Prior to entering the country, Alqasem deleted all her social media, Haiat said. When questioned by the judge about it, Alqasem allegedly did not explain why.

Haiat said Alqasem was not deprived of food or water throughout her detainment and has had access to her lawyer.

Despite the outcome of her second appeal, Alqasem will leave the country, Haiat said.

“She will be deported,” Haiat said. “The question is when.”

Contact Dana Cassidy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danacassidy_

Dana Cassidy is an 18-year-old UF journalism freshman and city commission beat writer at The Independent Florida Alligator. Outside of writing she loves fitness, dance, overweight pets, bad reality TV and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.