|Sievers, Stefanie U.|
|FYI: Israel/Palestine close to home (i.e. Eau Claire)|
When you were working on your research paper on Israel/Palestine, I mentioned in class that we had a visiting scholar from Gaza at UWEC--Dr. Mohamed Riffi, a mathematician. This is a message he sent a few days ago, about his attempt to re-enter the US and being prevented from doing so.
From: Riffi, Mohamed
Sent: Tuesday, May 04, 2004 6:11 AM
Subject: to all of my colleagues and friends
Thanks so much for sympathizing with me. I really appreciate your help during and after my stay at UWEC. You are a great man! I am sure that most of the Americans have great human values like the ones you have.
Let us hope that our world becomes better so that all the people of the earth live in peace and harmony.
Mohamed I Riffi
I am writing this message from Gaza. I enjoy being with my wife, kids, friends, and family. Life in Gaza is not too bad. Of course, most of you hear the news from Gaza.
I was supposed to return to Eau Claire or Madison to continue my project. Unfortunately, the INS refused to let me come back. There was no reason for that at all. Here is the full story:
According to the Fulbright scholarship contract, I was required to stay for two more months in UWEC or any other US university to complete my research project and write my final report. I decided to return to Eau Claire after staying two weeks in Gaza. I was not feeling well about leaving my family so early, but I tried to do my best to fulfill my scholarship requirements. I started my return trip to US from Gaza on April 19. I arrived to Cairo, 500 km away from Gaza, after 18 hours. The reason is the Israeli and Egyptian checkpoints. You can not imagine how much terrible it is to pass these checkpoints especially the Israeli ones.
Then I spent 10 hours waiting in the Cairo airport, where the Egyptians always hold the Palestinians in the airport without allowing us to go to a hotel or anywhere else in Cairo. There was no chance to eat or sleep in the airport.
In the morning of April 20, I was allowed to go to the departure gate on time. There was a one-hour delay for some reasons that no one knows. I arrived to Paris after 4.5 hours. There was no time to take any rest in the airport in Paris. I had to run in order to catch the second flight to Atlanta, Georgia. I hardly could arrive to the gate after 30 minutes of boarding.
I arrived to Atlanta after 9 hours and 15 minutes. I was extremely tired, but I was happy to arrive to Atlanta since there was supposed to be just few hours of traveling to Minneapolis where one of UWEC student was waiting for me to pick me to Eau Claire. I was hoping to call my wife to tell her that I arrived safely. Unfortunately, the INS shocked me by telling me that I have to go back my way to Cairo. I asked them about the reason and to be given a chance to talk to the officer, but they refused. Well, they told me that I did not inform them of leaving to Gaza on first trip. But that was not true at all. I me the INS staff in the Cincinnati airport. They checked my passport and took my I-94 form. They interviewed me and asked me many questions. Then I was allowed to leave the country.
I told INS policemen at Atlanta that I am a Fulbright Visiting Scholar doing research and teach at UWEC. They were making jokes about me. They threatened me of keeping me in the airport for about a month if I complain or refuse to leave on my own. Then, as being so scared, I told them to use my ticket and let me go to Gaza as soon as possible without complaining or objecting.
They detained me for about 3 hours in a cell which you will never imagine how dirty and terrible it is. The cell has a bathroom cabinet with out any walls. There were other people from Portugal, Guatemala, and Mexico in that cell. The policemen did not allow me to drink water or go to the rest room. It was so horrible to be in that situation. I couldn't believe what was happening. I thought that they were going to kill me or take me to their jail in Cuba. I also thought that it was not the USA, but a third world country. Thanks God, they took me to the flight gate after about 3 hours of terrorizing me.
I had to take my way back to Paris. Then I had to struggle with the French authorities to allow me change my ticket and leave to Cairo. I have faced many difficulties in Cairo, as well. Then I had to go through the Israeli checkpoint in Rafah. Thanks so much God, I finally arrived to my home after 80 hours of continuous traveling without any rest or sleep. I found my wife crying because she was expecting me to give here a call from Atlanta or Minneapolis. My son, Omar, wrote me an e-mail message to remind me to call them soon.
Now, I am suffering from many health and psychological problems and complications. I have pain in my neck, shoulders, and back. Now, I am spending all of my time sleeping or setting in my home. I don't like to meet people or talk to them. I feel that humans are very terrible. They are just like machines without any values or feelings. We are living in a very bad world. There is no freedom in our world at all.
The main purpose of the Fulbright scholarship is to fortify understanding between the people of the earth. Now, I don't know what kind of understanding can be achieved this way? I lived in Athens, Ohio and Chicago for more than 7 years. I never did any wrong thing during that time. I also was very nice with everyone in Eau Claire. I was very successful in research and teaching at UWEC. I published two papers. I also gave a talk at UWEC.
I don't care about not being allowed to enter the USA. I don't care about my cloths and belongings that were left in Eau Claire. I don’t care about the money I lost during this trip, but I hate the way the INS staff was dealing with me. I hate their brutality and atrocity.
The Fulbright people were very sorry to hear about that. They wanted me to try again, but I told them that this will never happen. I am enjoying living in Gaza. I will stay in Gaza for the rest of my life serving our students and people.
I hope that the American people who like peace can be more effective and change the world to a better one. The environment, peace, human values, etc. are more important than economy. I hope that they care about their government foreign policy. I hope that the dare to speak up and criticize their government if they feel that there is some thing wrong. I will dedicate the rest of my life to the International understanding and peace and to the Palestinian cause, as well.
Thanks for your time. I wish you the best of luck.
Mohamed I Riffi
Many of you have seen the alarming communication from our Fulbright scholar, Dr. Mohamed Riffi, and are outraged at his report of the treatment he received during his recent trip back to Gaza, and wondering what you, as an individual, or we as an insitution, can do about this.
I am writing to let you know that we have been actively involved in his case since the day of his deportation. Dr. Riffi contacted me as soon as he was returned to Gaza, to advise of the situation. I in turn advised the Chancellor and I have been working with Sen. Feingold's staff who are responsible for immigration matters, to identify what exactly happened with his case. His situation is very unusual, inasmuch as his visa was issued by US State Department itself. At this point, we do not know why he was deported. We are working toward that answer. I will share that answer with faculty and staff when we learn it, though in honesty, the facts related to his departation may never be fully disclosed to us.
There are many possible scenarios -- among them: US State department learned that he was a security risk, or US State Department learned that someone else named Mohamed Riffi was a security risk, or TSA or Homeland Security or Bureau of Citizenship profiled him, or simply made a stupid but serious error. All of those are possibilities, others exist as well, but we do not, at this point, have a clear answer.
I do want you to be assured that the University has been aggressively working toward resolving this, though we are not privy to all of the facts related to the case.
In addition to identifying the facts, we are working to determine whether Dr. Riffi will change his mind and seek to return to the US to complete his program with us. His bitterness over the experience is quite apparent, and understandable. It is my hope that he will try to return, but my most recent conversation with him (this morning) indicated that he will not return.
So the institution is responding. As to what you as an individual can do: please do what I have done, and that is contact Dr. Riffi to let him know your feelings, and your support for him. He loved his time in Eau Claire, and he really did achieve what the Fulbright program intends people to achieve, a better mutual understanding of another culture. Your contacting him and assuring him of your support will help him overcome the bitterness that feels now -- not toward the American people -- but toward the policies and actions of those who were involved in his deportation. I am grateful that he is able to keep those separate, and your being in touch with him will help underscore that difference.
Thanks, and please feel free to contact me with any questions.