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St. Louis woman detained in Israel, US State Department acknowledges

Hala Kasim Salameh, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American, was detained at a border checkpoint after her family says she was turned away on a visit to Jerusalem.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri — Israeli Defense Forces detained a St. Louis college student on Friday and held her over the weekend after she attempted to cross the border from Ramallah into Jerusalem to visit revered holy sites with her family.

Hala Kasim Salameh, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American woman from St. Louis, was visiting the West Bank with her mother, sister, aunt and cousin.

According to her family, Salameh is an American citizen who had proper documentation, a travel permit, a U.S. passport and her Palestinian I.D. card when she approached the first checkpoint but was turned away.

"Sometimes it doesn't really go how you want, and they can refuse your entry for no reason at all, and that's exactly what happened to my sister," her younger sister Yumna Salameh told 5 On Your Side in a video call on Sunday night.

"She tried to ask them twice to go in, and they still refused her entry," she said. "They kind of got aggressive with her, too."

After being separated from her family at the first checkpoint, Salameh tried for a third time to reconnect with them in a taxi cab. She no longer had her papers on her and was arrested after managing to make one final phone call to her family.

"She told us, 'Hey, I'm being detained. I'm with IDF soldiers right now as we speak,'" her sister said. 

A detention hearing was scheduled for Monday morning.

5 On Your Side was told that Salameh heard from Israeli authorities she would be released Monday, but she has since been reunited with her family.

Local advocates said American citizens often have an easier time traveling through checkpoints into Jerusalem than an American who also has dual Palestinian citizenship.

"Once you do get that citizenship from the Palestinian Authority, it kind of overrides your status as an American, even though it should not," Neveen Ayesh said. 

Ayesh, a St. Louis advocate with the Missouri chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, is working with Salameh's family to get her legal representation. 

"To begin with, she was not wrong because she did have a permit to enter," Ayes said. "The soldier just decided he didn't want to let her in."

Other advocates in Washington, D.C. called on the Biden administration to intervene on Salameh's behalf. 

"President Biden, Secretary Blinken and the State Department as a whole need to immediately call for her release," American Muslims for Palestine Director of Advocacy Ayah Ziyadeh said. 

"We are aware of reports of a U.S. citizen detained in Israel," a spokesman for the State Department told 5 On Your Side. "The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. When a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the Department works to provide all appropriate assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

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