From 1967 to Operation Boulder: The Erosion of Arab Americans’ Civil Liberties in the 1970s

By Pamela Pennock
Submitted to Session P4563 (50 YEARS AGO: THE 1967 WAR'S IMPACT ON ARAB AMERICANS AND ARABS IN AMERICA, 2016 Annual Meeting
North America;
Ethnic American Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The paper examines the federal government’s targeting of Arab Americans and Arab college students in America for surveillance and harassment in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Palestinian resistance movement swelled throughout the diaspora. In the wake of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September’s murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the Nixon administration established the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism which directed the FBI, State Department, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to enact “special measures” to monitor both non-citizen Arab residents and Arab Americans who were citizens of the United States. The program, which included a visa check system called Operation Boulder, lasted until 1975. I also discuss the federal government’s treatment of Arab American activists going back to 1967, including investigations in conjunction with the COINTELPRO surveillance program. The federal government overstepped its constitutional boundaries and used its powers in order to repress lawful political activities, particularly Arab American activism on behalf of Palestine. The paper explores Arab Americans’ responses and resistance to government violations of their civil liberties. Ironically, the government’s attempt to divide and intimidate Arab Americans actually served to heighten their unity and augment their activism.

A key figure in the Operation Boulder investigations was Abdeen Jabara, an Arab-American lawyer and political activist who was a target of NSA and FBI surveillance dating back to 1967 and who sued the federal government to challenge its violations of his and other Arab-Americans’ civil liberties. I rely most heavily on Jabara’s papers, my interviews with Jabara, the papers of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates, some federal government records, and mainstream and Arab-American press reports to piece together the story.