Thursday, July 9, 2015

Palestine 2

  • This was a tough post to write.
  • If I had let my thoughts be known on where I had gone or how I feel about the treatment of Palestinians at Ben Gurion airport, I would have not doubt that I would have been immediately detained.
  • Volunteers and would be volunteers have to contend with ethical issues with respect to the decision whether to lie as Israel controls all borders into Palestine.  Even using the name Palestine isn't appreciated as it is not recognized and can be seen as sympathy towards the cause.  You say "Arab" instead.
  • I shouldn't have to feel like I need to be deceptive.  To pretend I was all giddy and there for something else.  Volunteers I spoke with were mailing home their journal books (you are encouraged to document everything you observe) and everything else that point to Palestine.
  • Others I met were going all the way down to Eilat to cross there into Jordan to leave as they were told the border was easier.  Another person told me she deliberately dressed like a hippy who was there to go on a Christian pilgrimage and planned to leave the same way she came, after her placement was done a month later, via TLV.
  • I had a surprise at the post office in Jerusalem, when my passport was asked for and subsequently scanned.  It was one of those scary, suddenly need to maintain your composure moments when I realized they had pretty much everything about me...I hoped for the best as the book and various other things I was mailing was 100% about supporting Palestine...
  • The security procedures at Ben Gurion, in my opinion are unnecessarily over the top.  Because I had status with Skyteam, I managed to get my boarding pass via a different lane before the pre-security screen that I didn't know I needed to go through.  To me, it looked like people were just lining up to check in.  
  • So when I showed up at what was the 3rd station without the sticker from the first station (There are no signs directing people anywhere -- It was ridiculous considering the aim is to control)  they sent me back to some indeterminate direction.  Finally I found someone to ask and it turned out it was the entrance to where I was supposed to go.  Again, no signage!
  • The initial interview took a while.  The officer stood very close to me.  A few inches and they pretty much just glares as you.  I didn't step back.  She didn't like that I wasn't looking at her all the time.  It took minutes just to analyze my passport photo.  Then began the repetitive questioning about all the Muslim country stamps I had in my passport -- Morocco, UAE, Jordan, Turkey...About why I hadn't checked any luggage.  About why I traveled so much.  About why I was traveling solo.  And most importantly, who did I know in those countries?
  • I was completely prepared to lie and say that I stayed solely in Jerusalem, should the topic come up but it didn't.  I had receipts to prove my hotel reservation, even though I didn't spend much time in the city at all.  
  • I only had photos of Jerusalem on my phone.  Spent 3 - 4 hours every night uploading all the ones from Palestine onto a separate place where D would download it for me.  It got really tedious because my days were so long as it was and internet wasn't so fast.  I deleted the program before I left.  
  • My email and Facebook accounts were stripped of any correspondence related to Palestine.  My phone of this blog, banking, library, work etc.  I was told that nothing is off limits should they decide to search.  There is no such thing as privacy rights in Israel when if are suspected of being a threat.  
  • And everything was checked in my carry on bags.  It took a while.  And everything was scrubbed down for explosives.  My understanding of that stuff is that the particles are so fine that they pervade everything.  Scrubbing down the insides of my bag, toiletries bag, everything article of clothing is ridiculous.  
  • When I started to get frustrated at all the time it was taking (I still had passport control), I made a (slightly sarcastic but somewhat enthusiastic) comment about how I had read that Israeli security is the best in the world and I felt "so much safer" because of it...She actually thanked me for understanding! 
  • Then I started talking about how much I love Halva and how much weight I think I gained from eating so much (remembered not to call it Halawa -- Arabic name...) as I had 2 tubs of it in my bag and we got along way better after that as it is a favourite of her's as well.  Then my toiletries bag exploded when the scrub stick broke a seam and then it took extra time to find tape for me to put everything together...
  • I had it easy.  Only 45 min!  There were some Muslim travelers and they were told to sit down, a number of feet away, while everything in their luggage was taken out and they were not allowed to stand by it, like I was.  It is racial profiling as its best.  And they make no qualms about it.  It's what you have to contend with.  You don't have to go there if you don't like it.  
  • Worth noting also that upon arrival, when getting off your plane, there are plain clothes officers observing who is coming up the escalators.  If they don't like what they see, they will pull you aside for questioning.  They stare at you like they want to kill you.  I was shocked and intimidated at the overt hostility I felt, even though I was warned about them ahead of time. 
  • Now that I've gone through it once, I'll be even more ready next time.  It was absolutely worth the effort to get in, to be prepared to compromise myself to get out, to combat the effort that is being used to keep people like me (who wish to learn more about what is going on versus the religious tourists) away from Palestine.  It represents a very small sliver of the type and level of scrutiny that exists everyday for people in the West Bank.  

Photo of a few volunteers who were stationed in Hebron,
going on their rounds each day, observing and noting.
And yes, it can be risky, especially in the rural areas.

***Before you think that I'm anti-Israel,
I want to say that there are important distinctions to be made between:
Israelis, Israel the country, Jewish people around the world, Settlers,
the policies of the Israeli government, their military mandates, the countries who provide financial support.***

My first and last day was spent in Jerusalem and found the sheer historical sites overwhelming in its significance.  Whether you are are religious or not, most of us have heard of and grew up with so much of what is found in that city.  It moved me much more than expected.  More on this later. 

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