Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: Author receives permit to travel to Lebanon

April 13, 2010 |  6:47 pm

Ala%20Hlehel-1A previous post told of Ala Hlehel's petition to receive permission from the Israeli government to travel to Lebanon for a literary festival. Hlehel, an Arab citizen of Israel who is among the recipients of the Beirut39 awards for Arab literature, challenged the decades-long ban barring Israeli residents from visiting countries defined as "enemy states," including Lebanon.

Much to his attorneys' surprise, the author is going. Government officials said no, but the Supreme Court said yes.

Haneen Naamnih, a lawyer from the Adalah legal center who petitioned on Hlehel's behalf, began to think things might be going their way in court Sunday when the state--which in such cases usually presents confidential material on the petitioner's background explaining the security risk--didn't present any specific security grounds for prohibiting Hlehel from making the trip.

Israeli law gives the Interior minister and the prime minister authority to permit such travels at their discretion, under certain conditions and subject to security recommendations. The policy--though not established by law--is to grant permission only in "extreme humanitarian" cases, a gray area not legally defined by specific criteria.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Hlehel's case didn't qualify. The court then appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he declined to reverse Yishai's judgment. 

The Supreme Court did, however, in a rare instance of such intervention in government policy, Naamnih said. The court's decision marks the first time since the Jewish state was founded that a citizen's travel to an "enemy state" was allowed under such circumstances, she said.

Hlehel said he was glad his case had been resolved, but that he would be saddened if the broader issue weren't resolved. He hopes the case encourages more people to request permits and the state to review the "state of emergency" law restricting such travel. "I am moved to tears to be going to Beirut," he said.

But he's also a bit amused that the security services couldn't come up with anything against him. "I must be a good Arab," he joked, waiting in London for his Lebanese visa. "This is bad for my reputation."

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Above: Ala Hlehel, Credit Banipal- Magazine of Modern Arab Literature website