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U.S. to Israel: Ease up on Arab-Americans

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department has complained to the Israeli government about its discriminatory treatment of Arab-Americans traveling to the Palestinian territories, senior State Department officials said Thursday.

Officials said that despite a longstanding policy of issuing visas to Americans traveling to the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli government has recently denied Palestinian-Americans and certain other Americans entry.

During her recent trip to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and U.S. diplomats have also recently complained to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, officials said.

"They are being treated as Arabs and not Americans," one senior official said. "They basically treat them as second-class citizens."

In a speech October 11 before the American Task Force on Palestine, Rice acknowledged "continuing problems of security" faced by Palestinian-Americans living and working in Gaza and the West Bank and pledged "to ensure that all American travelers receive fair and equal treatment."

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, told CNN in a phone interview, "We are aware of the issue and it is being treated at senior levels, but we are waiting for more details from the administration on specific cases they have raised."

The Arab American Institute issued a statement Thursday thanking Rice for her efforts to defend the rights of Palestinian-Americans.

"Arab-Americans have been regularly traveling to their ancestral homelands for generations and they have a significant role to play in the reconstruction of the economic and social life in the Occupied Territories," Arab American Institute President James Zogby wrote. "It is important that their right and ability to continue to do so be reaffirmed."


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