Share your story. Stop U.S. codification of Israeli discrimination.

 

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A couple of days ago,  the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations scheduled mark-up for the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 for Tuesday, May 20th.  This legislation includes a Visa Waiver provision that would codify rather than challenge Israel’s discriminatory policies towards U.S. citizens at Israeli-controlled borders.

On Wednesday, May 21st, a day after the Senate has now scheduled to mark-up the legislation, a coalition of organizations has organized a Capitol Hill briefing to examine and challenge Israel’s discriminatory policies.  This briefing will include testimonies of entry denial from Sandra Tamari and I, as well as speakers discussing the history and policy of Israeli discrimination at borders.

Members of Congress and Israeli officials alike have denied that any such discrimination exists. And the concern is that they will try to pass the legislation on Tuesday right out of committee, without debate and without any admission of what actually happens at Israeli borders.

If this legislation passes in its current form, it would reward Israel with entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, allowing Israeli citizens to come and go to the United States as they please while American citizens are denied entry arbitrarily, and often, on the basis of religious, racial, or political affiliation.

We know that stories of discrimination and entry denials at Israeli borders are many. I am writing today to ask you to share your story.

I wrote once that “Owning our stories, inserting our voices into the larger narrative, is not simply about strengthening the vastness of the library of stories…. In the process of finding the words we want to contribute, we are also empowered to speak. Yes, we speak out against the injustices we endure and witness, but much more importantly, we speak to each other. And when we do that, we feed an immense potential for empowering one another’s actions, as well as voices.”

This is one of those times.

The press that has been created against Israel’s inclusion in the visa waiver program, as well as Israel’s despicable treatment  of travelers that has been put on public display in Op-Eds and news pieces has been largely due to your willingness to raise your voices.

I am asking you now to contribute to the testimonies that will be provided in the briefing on Wednesday, as well as efforts to pressure debate on Tuesday.

If you are an American citizen, please write in the comments section below, and share either an instance of discrimination, delay, harassment, or denial at an Israeli border.

Thank you for your time and for your voice,

Nour Joudah

20 responses to “Share your story. Stop U.S. codification of Israeli discrimination.

  1. I have visited Palestine numerous times throughout my life. I was born in Jerusalem and my parents and I immigrated to the United States when I was a little more than two years of age. I have been able to list Palestine as the place of birth on one of my most recent US passports but when recently I had to get a replacement due to a visit to Lebanon and the Israeli stamp present in the visa section my updated one was rejected until I gave an alternative to Palestine for place of birth. I was told to either use Israel or the city of Jerusalem. When I simply stated that I was able in the past to list Palestine, they stated the permission was granted in error and I could not receive a current passport unless I selected one of the two choices I was granted. I accepted Jerusalem as I needed a passport shortly at attend a wedding in Beirut. Every time I visit Palestine I am interrogated for hours at a time. I am searched in a private room, I have to remove most of my clothing and subject myself to a pat down along with extensive questioning about my life, my employment, and my reasoning for visiting the country. My trip to the nation of my birth is always tense and uninviting. It is home but it also a source of anger and pain.

  2. This reminds me of my daughter’s experience when she traveled to Palestine to visit her husband’s family several years ago. i can’t speak for her, and she has told me about how she was treated upon landing in Israel, and about the Israeli checkpoints. It is ridiculous and cruel to treat Muslim people in the manner in which other Jewish passengers treated her and then she had to consent to the examination on arriving and leaving Israel!! She is 100% American citizen, born and raised here. Her conversion to Islam was the difference, as she dressed in typical Muslim garb for her time there. We, as a country, need to object to this treatment, not only of Muslims from the US, and also from Palestine!! As a citizen of the US, I strongly object to these Israeli actions!!!

  3. 8 hours at hussein’s bridge 1st time i traveled to palestine, because i had studied arabic in lebanon some time back.

    8 hours at al aqaba crossing my second time for the same reason.

    They deemed me (a non white american) a threat just because i dared to visit arab countries.

  4. I am an american citizen. I am also half Palestinian. When going into the west bank through Allenby bridge last summer I was detained for 7 hours while waiting for the visa. In that time i was interrogated 3 times.

    My father is also an american citizen with an american passport. HOWEVER he has a Palestinian ID. Because of that he is only allowed into the west bank and never into tel aviv or Jerusalem or anywhere past the Apartheid wall.
    Let me reiterate for the members of congress: My father has an american passport and is not allowed into Israel by they government of Israel. My father flied into Ben Gurion airport for business and he was put in prison for 2 days and then deported. The government of Israel does not recognize him as a citizen of the U.S. He is only allowed to travel on his Palestinian ID with which he is only allowed to go to the west bank with.

    Let me just say it one more time he is an American citizen and has an American passport but is turned away because of his race.

  5. 10 hours!!! of humiliating interrogation on second trip via Ben Gurion airport. Finally given 7day visa. I was traveling with my husband and daughter (both Arab-American) and I (100% Italian American) was the only one interrogated. They were each given 3month visas without any questions.

  6. I was pulled aside at the King Hussein/ Allenby Bridge crossing and interrogated about why I was visiting where I was going, and when the woman saw that my layover on my return flight was in Detroit, she became very suspicious and called another woman over and they both started questioning me and were very accusatory. I never admitted that I was volunteering in Palestine, or even visiting Palestine. The woman stamped my passport, handed it back and it wasn’t until later that I discovered they had stamped my passport with the 3 month visa and then crossed out ‘3 months’ and wrote in ‘one week’, even though as an American I am entitled to a 3 month visa upon arrival. They never told me. They also marked me as a level 3 security threat, out of 5, inexplicably. Very awful experience, treated like a criminal for no reason.

  7. I am an American citizen of Lebanese descent. Last year, I travelled to Palestine to volunteer for a local news outlet, was held at the border at Ben Gurion Airport for 7 hours and then given a short visa described as “punitive.” Although I went through the process to (legally) extend my visa, it was denied when I went to Jerusalem rather than Beit El

    I attempted to go back to Palestine, first to actually go to a conference in Tel Aviv, followed by a trip to the West Bank and was denied entry, despite having a formal invitation to the country in Hebrew. I was deported and banned for ten years. In addition to having humiliating, racist questions asked about myself, my family and my travels to other countries that even vaguely fall under the Arab/Middle Eastern banner, I had my luggage destroyed and was covered in security tags. I couldn’t call anyone. On my layover in Istanbul, the Turkish police guarded me and screamed at me if I so much as moved because of “orders from Israel.” It was humiliating and frightening as well as racist and infuriating.

    A combination of speaking out about my experience and doing my own research showed me that my story was a familiar story to many. The State Department website even warns travelers of Arab/Muslim and particularly Palestinian descent that being detained and deported is highly likely, as if to discourage us from traveling to Israel rather than ensuring our protection as American citizens.

    This conversation around the visa waiver bill is indicative of not only how Israel views and treats Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims but also how the United States views and treats us. Instead of taking our concerns and experiences seriously, and holding Israel accountable, it is completely ignoring us. Although I think this is an experience that is common to many minority groups, it is absolutely unacceptable given the vast numbers of Americans who have experienced harm and hostility from the Israeli authorities.

    I wish you all the best of luck at the hearing.

    In solidarity,
    Anna

  8. When I entered West Bank for a visit I was detained approximately 5 hours and asked numerous questions. Why? Just to aggravate and delay my entry.

  9. “Unbutton your pants,” Sara, the stone-faced security agent at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, told me. I sobbed, choking on my words, “My dad was born in Nazareth.”

    “Lift your shirt,” she continued.

    “My father is dying, and he can’t return here,” I mumbled. I thought of what my father looked like at that moment, bruised and broken from a drunk driver, unable to breathe on his own, and helpless in a hospital bed in South Carolina.

    My life had unraveled before my eyes the day before as the news of my parents’ car accident reached me. I quickly booked a flight home. At Ben Gurion Airport, I watched as airport security officials inspected every single item in my two large suitcases one by one, rubbing an ersatz magic-wand over every Palestinian memento I purchased for my family.

    My body was overcome with grief, shock, and tears.

    Three cohorts of travelers bypassed the intense scrutiny I was facing and proceeded to their simple check-in process. One other person –also an Arab American, received the same treatment I did. Discrimination is enshrined as the norm at Israeli border entries.

    I am an American citizen, and this is a very familiar scene to Americans of Palestinian descent who have attempted to visit their families’ homes.

    But my situation, I thought, was different.

    “My father has been in a car accident, and he’s dying,” I pleaded with the Israeli security agent at Ben Gurion airport. But my father’s unfolding tragedy did not matter. The Israeli security official insisted on strip-searching me down to the very last article of clothing. I could not see from the tears running down my face, tears from the shock of this immense loss I was facing and from the humiliation of this outright discrimination and degradation.

    Just as I thought the humiliation had ended and I could make my way to the check-in counter, the Israeli official intervened again.

    “I’ll take you to the counter,” she said, insisting that I would not be allowed to fly if she didn’t escort me. I was furious, and in the depths of my despair, I still craved an ounce of justice.

    We finally reached the gate barely in time for boarding (I arrived at Ben Gurion 4.5 hours before my flight was scheduled to board), where my escort made sure that I—a top-level security threat who could barely see through my tears—did indeed board the plane.

    All we Palestinians want is to be treated with equality. I wanted, especially on that day, to leave the country in dignity as I flew to attend my father’s funeral. Instead I was strip searched and humiliated by the same occupying power that displaced my father – and me.

  10. In 2007, I was held for 10+ hours in Ben Guron airport. I was being asked the same questions over and over while my mother and driver waited outside for me. I am a born and raised Chicagoan who is a Palestinian by heritage, but not by citizenship. I was questioned why I didn’t have a howeeya number, or Palestinian ID. I was asked again, how much money I had at least 5 times. At one point, I was fed up and told all of these “soldiers” to gather around with their memo pads and ask me all their questions at once instead of once every 2 hours by different people. I waited another 2 hours. I was only let go because the other person held with me was crying about her blood sugar levels and was telling them she was going to faint. If she was honest about that, I’m glad she didn’t faint. If she was lying just to end this false improsonment in a hole of a “room” at the airport, I regret that I didn’t think of this the second time.

    In 2010, I went back. Damn right, it’s where I belong. I went to go see my family and went through Allenby bridge and waited about 6 hours. They found it weird that I wanted to visit my parents’ home town and kept apologizing for the inconvenience by telling me it should be “soon” that this will be over. They called my aunts, asked why I didn’t have a howeeya, made me count my money in front of them, and left my luggage out past the checkpoint for all of it to be stolen (but Palestinians at the checkpoint know what that means when there is abandoned luggage, it means they’re trapped in the game of waiting). They let me go and only was given a visa to the PA, Palestinian Authority. I didn’t realize this till a few days later.

    I was approaching a checkpoint to Jerusalem. There were only cars in and out of this checkpoint and I proceeded to walk past it. I was stopped by Israeli soldiers and was told to go to some other town to get my visa. I was laughed at and had a gun pointed at me from a distance.

  11. All of the above sounds familiar and is indicative of a systemic policy of racial profiling and intimidation.

    On my first visit through Ben Gurion, I was held up despite having a wedding invitation in Hebrew for a Jewish wedding in Tel Aviv. (I should note that this should not matter in any case, but these are the types of documents that an American of Palestinian heritage would require to have a chance of a avoiding long-term delay.) Like others, this document still meant that I was questioned about my background. The airport personnel even unabashedly googled my name and tried to ask me questions about my education to poke holes in my ‘story’.

    My first visit through Allenby I was held up for 4-5 hours. My cousins in Jerusalem were called to verify the reason for my visit. Their personal information was recorded as well as that of everyone I was visiting.

    My second visit to Allenby resulted in a denied entry stamp – but this is a more complicated story. However I was also asked, like others, to show how much money I had in my wallet. My cousins in Jerusalem were also called to verify my visit but apparently I was too much of a security threat to let me go visit them.

    However, in addition to the unequal treatment that Americans receive – ie if you have any ties to the Arab and/or Muslim world or not – is this really the way that we would expect to be welcomed by a country with which we have a ‘special relationship’? Surely this is not what we expect upon arrival to our friends in Europe? Indeed, even Arab countries do not treat American citizens this way! The incongruities between rhetoric and practice are startling and indicative that the special relationship between the US and Israel is purely based on ill-conceived notions of security and stability.

  12. I am a Palestinian American. I was born in Virginia, raised in Texas and now live in New York City. My parents were both born in Palestine, and they struggle to visit their birthplace. My father was denied entry when he tried to visit his sick mother before she passed away. She died without her son by her side. My mother is too traumatized by Israeli soldiers confiscating baby formula at checkpoints to ever visit again.

    In my case, each time I consider visiting my relatives, I am consumed by anxiety and fear. I know that it requires incredible strength to face Israeli border guards if you’re an Arab American. They’ll find out my last name, and immediately I’ll be harassed and profiled. It doesn’t matter what passport I hold, it doesn’t matter that I have no criminal record, or that I’m just a young woman trying to visit her aging family members.

    In 2007, I was denied entry to Palestine by Israel. I was visiting with a Jewish American friend of mine. This friend had no family or friends in Israel. Within 5 minutes of finding out my friend was Jewish, Israeli authorities let them in. But my friend, with no connections and no command of the language, did not want to travel without me. My treatment was so distinct from my friend’s, it was impossible to not acknowledge how obvious the discrimination was. I was placed in isolation, separated from my friend, unable to eat, harassed by an interrogator and armed border guards and asked the same questions over and over again. I was exhausted and feeling sick from having not eaten. I was terrified that after all that travel, and after reaching the border at 8am, I would be denied entry and denied the chance to embrace my aunts and uncles and see my cousins’ babies. At the end of the long day, the border was about to close, and I was still waiting. A lone, lower-level border patrol officer told me I was denied entry. They gave no explanation and no remedy. I was devastated and confused.

    I told myself I wouldn’t break down in front of the soldiers, that I would remain strong. But I was tired, dispirited and overwhelmed. The day’s misery and humiliation amounted into confused sobs.

    In 2011, I mustered up the courage to visit again, and the same interrogation ensued. They asked me questions about my relatives and asked me to log into my email account so they could read my emails. At the end of the day, I was eventually let in, but it’s always a crapshoot. The unpredictability is unnerving. They let me in so late, I missed the last bus to Jerusalem and had to make alternate plans.

    All we want is to be able to visit our family and friends, and the place of our roots, with dignity. We demand to be treated with respect.

  13. I am a U.S. citizen. In 2009, I visited Israel/Palestine and spent 3.5 weeks with a legal, non-violent organization called the International Solidarity Movement. I spent the entirety of my three weeks in the region in what is legally considered the Palestinian Territories, primarily in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I did not visit Israel (within the 1967 borders) except when entering and leaving the country.

    During my three weeks, I met with international and Israeli activists, Palestinian activist groups and volunteers, and stayed with a Palestinian family that was eventually evicted to make way for Israeli settlers, in a move that was condemned (weakly) by the U.S. State Department. I documented a number of demonstrations, the vast majority of them unarmed and non-violent. Nonetheless, I was still fired at with live ammunition by Israeli forces, and I watched as Israeli soldiers violently removed Palestinian farmers and internationals from their own land near Hebron. Nothing I was doing at this time could possibly be viewed by any reasonable person as a security threat to anyone, civilian or military.

    When I returned to the United States, I uploaded some of my video footage to an internet website for educational purposes. I was contacted via my YouTube account by an anonymous person. That individual had somehow obtained my full name and address, and informed me that he would send the information to the Israeli military.

    In 2010, I arrived at the Israeli port city of Eilat from Egypt. I had been invited to Israel/Palestine by an Israeli and Palestinian academic organization, Faculty for Israel Palestine Peace, to work as an intern. Nonetheless, I was barred at the border for no apparent reason and turned away to Egypt. The border guards asked me if I had ever been to the Palestinian Territories, and then expelled me, claiming “security”. I sailed to Jordan, and attempted to enter the Palestinian West Bank from that country. I was held for an hour, along with dozens of Palestinians who were being barred from re-entering what was left of their own territory alongside me. I was finally informed ominously by a security officer that “The State does not want [me] here.” No reason was given. I gave up and returned to Jordan.

    I am a U.S. citizen. I have been told that the Israeli government often arbitrarily denies Arabs and Muslims — including hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians — from re-entering their land, and that this often includes Arab-Americans. In my case, even showing benign empathy for Palestinians and working with organizations that are legal in the United States, Israel, and in Palestine, was enough to extend this discrimination to me — even though I am not an Arab.

    The notion that I or anyone else poses a “security threat” to Israel based on race, nationality, or in my case, political sympathy for those who have been discriminated against, is backward. Rather than Israel expelling security threats that are entering their land, it is Israel that continues to illegally enter Palestinian land and pose security threats to the population therein — and anyone else who sees this as an injustice, including Americans like myself.

  14. After graduating college, I decided to spend about three months in Palestine to bond with my dad’s side of the family. I spent one weekend with my wonderful aunt in Jordan, and when I tried to get back to my family in Palestine, I was detained at the Allenby bridge for over 12 hours. Throughout those hours, my body was searched, my bra was analyzed by multiple officials, my belongings were repeatedly searched, the names and numbers of my phone contacts were recorded, I was interrogated about my politics and my religion and my relationship to everyone in my phone, my private journal was taken from me and read, and I was told that I did not “look like a terrorist, but….” Ultimately, I was denied entry and provided with no reasoned explanation.

    An American embassy official in Jordan told me “you were racially profiled.” She told me that my status as a single woman without employment made it more likely in the eyes of Israeli officials that I would stay in the West Bank. She told me upfront that regardless of my rights as an American citizen, my ability to work and to bear children classifies me in the eyes of the Israeli border officials as a demographic threat.

    The uncertainty of not knowing whether you’ll get in, and the anxiety accompanying the process of finding out is a tactic to deter people of Palestinian heritage from returning. It is a tactic of sociocide.

  15. White privilege is the name of the game when crossing the border into Israel or Palestine. Having blonde hair, blue eyes, and a Western last name has spared me the blatant profiling that awaits any American of the “wrong” color or religion. However, pleasant means something completely different by the standards of a military occupation. Crossing into Palestine from Jordan still means a lot of things. It means eight-hour delays in interrogation if I don’t smile widely enough at the soldier holding my passport or flirt back with the guard at the checkpoint. It means watching armed soldiers rifle through the underwear in my suitcase and confiscate any personal possession on a whim. It means being locked into a series of cattle chute-like devices at Eretz while a soldier angrily yells instructions to me through a speaker system. It means being anxious about who I add on Facebook, what e-mails or texts I write my friends, and which articles I publish online (because you never know when the passwords to your private accounts will be demanded). It means always being prepared for the possibility of a strip search. It means being able to say and do nothing while a soldier my own age berates my mother. It means crossing my fingers that the soldier I queue up in front of is nice or reasonable or at least in a good mood because whether I get in can come down to that. It means being careful not to speak any Arabic anywhere near a checkpoint. It means avoiding changing the surname on my passport or driver’s license because I married a Lebanese national. The act of regularly crossing into Israel or Palestine is dominated by anxiety, loss of dignity and personal freedom, and the necessity of regulating one’s identity and behavior to suit the cold indifference of a militaristic state. These experiences of inconvenience, embarrassment, and anxiety are hard for me to call “pleasant.” But compared to the crushing indignities I’ve witnessed other Americans endure – from small children to pregnant women to men my grandfather’s age – for the fact of being Arab or Muslim, they really are.

  16. I am an American citizen of Palestinian descent, and for several years I’ve make a summer trip to visit family back home. Each time, I’d anticipate that interrogation would take somewhere between 6-8 hours. I knew the drill so well, I’d prepare anyone who was traveling with me by informing them of what was to come. One year in particular stands out because my best friend and I had travelled together and made friends with a young Palestinian-American on the plane — we bet him that we’d be the last ones out of the interrogation rooms. Out of the entire plane, the only people who were not allowed to pass through immigration to gather their belongings were me and my friend, the Palestinian-American we met on the plane, another young Palestinian -American making her first visit and a Turkish business man. I had learned from my prior experiences to have an international phone ready so that I could update my family on what was going on — I gave my phone to the others so they too could tell their families of what was going on. one by one, we were pulled into private offices to be interrogated, then released, then asked to wait, then taken to another room, then back, then to another office, then wait some more. When we were finally escorted to the luggage area, every single item in our suitcases was examined separately, even though the suitcases had already been through all of the standard (and extra) security checks. We were then escorted back to the room to wait again. Several other planes had emptied while we waited. About six hours after our landing, the young Palestinians we met on the plane were finally allowed out. We were held a bit longer, and then finally released. No explanation as to why this happens has ever been given. This is just one story– I have many, many, MANY others.

  17. At age 19 I went to Palestine for a summer to live with a host family, take Arabic classes, and intern at a news agency where I did reporting and translation. While studying Arabic was my initial motivation to go, I inevitably became immersed in the political reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Always an outsider, I tried to understand my place there, a white, blonde American girl who embarrassingly had just recently learned the difference between Palestinians and Israelis in a Middle East history class the semester before.

    Partway through the summer I visited a friend in Cairo for a long weekend. Upon my return, I was interrogated for a period of 11 hours in Ben Gurion Airport and denied permission to enter Israel. I was fingerprinted, had my picture taken, and after 30 hours spent locked in a detention facility in the airport, I was put on a plane to New York.

    I was immediately pulled aside once I got to the customs counter in Tel Aviv when I arrived at 5:00 am. El Al security in the Cairo airport had given me a thorough run-down of questions and emptied my backpack multiple times. The security agent took away all of my disposable cameras as a “security risk.” I think my passport had already been flagged before the plane landed in Israel — I fit the profile of a typical western activist aiming to bear witness to the occupation in Palestine.

    Running on no sleep when I arrived at Ben Gurion, I fumbled through questions about my grandparents’ names at that caught me off guard, and was immediately pulled back to a waiting room where I waited with mostly Arab Americans, Turkish tourists, and a smattering of other individual travelers. On and off for the next eleven hours, I was called into smaller offices to be questioned about what I was planning to do in Israel, whom I knew, and why I had gone to Cairo. I would wait sometimes for hours and then they would call me in to answer the same questions from a different security agent, twisting their words slightly so it sounded like a different question.

    One of them turned the computer monitor to me to try to get me to log into my email. I think I said something about how it was private and they moved on, but they clearly took note. They took my dead cell phone, charged it, and looked through my contacts, call register, and text messages before returning it to me. I was allowed to go to the bathroom around the corner only if I had a guard as my escort. About 6 hours into being questioned I was brought a sandwich and a coke, the sight of which made me sick.

    After many tedious sessions of invasive on and off questioning I told the officers I was no longer comfortable answering their convoluted questions about the elderly couple that was my host family in Bethlehem. The response was, “If you won’t cooperate with us, we’ll have to assume you’re associated with terrorists and we won’t let you back into Israel.” A blonde American teenager, I was shocked to hear these words coming from a country we call one of our closest “friends.”

    I was taken to another room to be fingerprinted. I texted home in the states to let them know I had been denied entry to Israel and I would call back with flight information, assuming it would just be a couple hours until I was put on the next flight to New York.

    Instead, I was put in a van with another American who had been denied a visa, not told where we were going. We ended up at another building, still within the airport compound. I was brought to a room and told to grab what I needed for a shower and leave the rest. I was not allowed my phone, a pen, or a book — just a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Confused, and still thinking I would be brought to a gate in the airport soon, I obliged and was led upstairs, only to be locked in a room for another day and a half before being escorted to a plane back to the states.

    Full post here: http://alajnabiya.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/you-cant-get-there-from-here/

  18. My 2 brothers & I are Palestinian American born citizens. When attempting to enter Pali in 08 all 3 of us were denied YET our caucasion blonde haired blue eyed friend was granted access. All equally American citizens, yet us with Pali backgrounds were denied.
    To make matters worse, we were there for my brother’s wedding, which had to be re-scheduled & moved to Amman in 48 hrs. Quite a mess, I assure you.

  19. I’m a US citizen, family lives in Palestine (none of us have Palestinian IDs). I wrote this in 2011, after I was denied for the third time in less than 2 years.

    DENIED ENTRY (AGAIN)

    There are three things I never do: I never write about my experiences with the Israeli occupation; I never give much importance to the daily mechanisms of control and humiliation utilized by the occupation apparatuses (as they pale in comparison to the apparatuses used to carry out house demolitions, torture, terrorizing and killing); and I never use my US citizenship for leverage.

    But this time, after being denied for the third time in less than two years, I have violated all three of these personal rules. I have decided to write about my personal experience of not being allowed to go home; I have decided to justify this narration as being a testament to the systemic racist policies of the Israeli state used as a way to maintain its exclusively Jewish character on the entire land of historic Palestine; and I have decided to use my US citizenship to show that so-called civilized democracies grant privilege along lines of ethnicity and color. I do all this with full recognition—and a good serving of guilt—that my story is not representative of the Palestinian experience, nor does it do justice to the extreme suffering that many Palestinians go through every day. Recognition of my privilege does not absolve me from the biases of positionality, yet it is an essential premise upon which I begin my story.

    It is not the particularities of my story that make it worth telling or listening to; the way in which I was treated by the border patrol authorities is not unique nor significant in itself. And yet, I know that the Palestinian blood running through my veins, the color of my skin, and my unmistaken Arab name render me one of many who are mistreated—my citizenship merely serving as a faint threat of a slightly tainted public image that is brashly brushed aside.

    As I got off the plane arriving from London via Istanbul, and walked towards the multiple queues of tourists and Israelis waiting to enter Israel, I could feel my heart pounding. My mind raced with thoughts of my impending denial. As I scanned the faces of the border patrol agents sitting in their cubicles, I tried to choose the one who seemed the most “lenient.” In the midst of my confusion, I battled against myself as I switched queues, trying not to attract the attention of my fellow travellers. When my turn finally came, I forced a smile upon my face, and asked my oppressor how she was doing. We had a friendly but brief exchange about the weather before I was asked the seemingly casual questions about my reasons for visiting Israel. Not surprisingly, she asked me to step to the side and wait for her colleague to question me further.

    Like a broken record, I have been subjected to this “security procedure” more times than I can recall. After being juggled from one room to the next, and then back again, I was called into a private office. A woman in uniform barked the usual questions at me as her cross-armed colleague towered over me. It was not his prominent height or built, or even his stern expression, but his eyes that bore into me. Like fire, I felt their eyes burn steadily through my strong façade. Uncharacteristically, they did not ask me countless and repeated questions, but simply told me that I was not going to be let in. I stared blankly at them, asking why this was the case. My incredulity was only matched by their own incredulity at such a question. What makes me think I have a right to enter when I have been denied before? Upon telling me that I should have applied for a visa at the Israeli Embassy, I vowed I would never willingly subject myself to such humiliation again.

    What ensued was a 6-hour period of “security checks” during which I struggled to get a hold of my family, whom I frantically asked to call a lawyer; I was overwhelmed by distress, fatigue, dehydration, and a fountain of tears, accompanied by angry words and glares, as my blood pressure and blood sugar plunged. When I refused 5 different officials’ orders to get off the phone and follow them to conduct a security check (my response was that I would get up as soon as I was finished talking), they called over a dark burly man, who quite simply, looked Arab. Meet Uzi. Uzi, short for Ezra, I found out upon asking him, my biggest—pun intended—adversary there. “Uzi,” he informed me smugly, with threatening eyes, “like the gun.” “Like the gun, huh?” I said, unable to muster up more than a sarcastic laugh as I rolled my eyes to show him that not only did I think he was pathetic, but I wasn’t scared. The latter of course, was not entirely true. For my first encounter with Ezra was when he was called over to threaten me with physical force. As I sat in a waiting chair, my knees pulled tightly up against my body, over the phone I informed my parents what had happened. As if out of thin air, Ezra hurled his massive body over me, his face inches away from mine, his index finger, pointed upwards, thrust into the meagre space between us. “Get off the phone!” He shouted down at me, his face contorted into a threatening snarl. My heart pounding louder and faster than before, I thrust my index finger right back at his face. “Get your finger out of my face!” I shouted, “I’ll hang up when I’m done speaking!” This of course, only heightened his anger, and as he inched closer, his voice got louder. “I will take your phone and throw it away!” At that moment, I knew that my only connection to the outside world could be confiscated in a split second, and then whatever courage I could muster up would surely have been crushed by the fear of being completely alone and isolated. So I calmly told my parents to call me back later, and I ended the conversation.

    Again, I was ordered to get up. But I remained glued to my chair. I responded that I was too dizzy and tired to walk. After another verbal confrontation with one of the supervisors, during which I declared that I would faint if I did not have a wheelchair, I agreed to get up. I walked slowly and could feel myself getting more lightheaded as my blood pressure and blood sugar dropped. With tears streaming down my face, I continued to request a wheelchair. With each of their refusals, my anger and distress increased. I finally sat down on the ground, put my head down and allowed myself to cry. Although I knew I should not show them my weakness, my tears rushed out uncontrollably. The three officials accompanying me were bewildered. Get up, they said. Not until you bring me a wheelchair, I responded. And so one after another, they came and went, until I was surrounded by 6 officials. It was actually quite comical to watch them all looking at me, not knowing what to do. Comical, of course, only in hindsight. I argued that just like a physically disabled person who does not have legs to walk, so too was I unable to walk—my legs simply wouldn’t carry me. I insisted that they would provide this person with a wheelchair, so why couldn’t they simply provide me with one too? All I got in response was a round of more glares. As I glared back at one, abruptly asking what was so funny, I saw a glimpse of humanity in 3 of the 10 officials. But that didn’t matter. They still refused to provide a wheelchair. So I refused to get up. I sat like that for a while, until finally they brought a doctor. He helped me up, and held my arm as I walked to his office. Until I collapsed onto the ground, unable to hold my head up, my eyes involuntarily closing, the room spinning, and my body feeling weak and limp. The doctor quickly brought a wheelchair and wheeled me to his office.

    Sitting in his office, I was relieved to be treated respectfully. After going through the motions, the doctor told the security and border patrol officials to ensure I had water, remained seated, and ate something right away. I naively believed they would heed the doctor’s orders. To describe the rest of what happened is unnecessary. Suffice it to say that I was denied water, food, the private use of a bathroom, and of course my wheelchair up until the moment that one official “snuck” me to the bathroom, and then to the food court, as she escorted me to the gate, my passport in her possession. Like a criminal, I was escorted by two officials onto a Turkish Airlines flight, right back to Istanbul, only to be escorted to the “Deportee Office” in Istanbul, and escorted right back to London, where I was finally allowed to hold my own passport again.

    Upon arriving in London, I wondered how I would explain the whole ordeal to UK Border Control officials. Unlike the Turkish officials, who are quite accustomed to “deportees” and Israeli policies, the Brits have a thing or two to learn about world politics. Admittedly however, I was grateful that I wasn’t back in Texas, being questioned by clueless Homeland Security officials. Nevertheless, I was asked whether I was “a threat to Israel’s national security,” to which I could only shrug and stammer a question back: “do I look like a threat to Israel’s security? It’s just an excuse.” After several rounds of questioning, the UK official surprisingly acquiesced with my explanation. Despite my heart racing, and my face flushing each time I was asked such a ludicrous but nevertheless unnerving question, I was being treated less like a criminal than before. This was a relief.

    As I passed from one set of officials to the next, I imagined myself travelling through time, being subjected to the hegemonic control of one imperial/colonial power to the next, a span of centuries of Palestinian subjugation being crammed into a mere 24 hours of my own subjugation. Albeit not in chronological order, I got a tiny glimpse into the experience of being subjugated first by the Turks (yes, I know, it was the Ottoman Empire), then by the British, and then the Israeli Zionists. This was accompanied by the realization that our subjugation has only increased in severity. As if my US citizenship vanished into thin air, I was being questioned based on my name, my blood, my Palestinian-ness. And although I vowed to not try to go home again, I am now determined to find a way to complete my journey back.

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