Concluding my first week in Palestine after a seven year absence has been emotionally and mentally challenging. In addition to spending time with family, I was full of optimism, hoping to notice a progression in Palestinian-Israeli relations. Unfortunately, some things haven’t changed.
Traveling to Palestine is convoluted in itself. Due to Israel’s continuous military occupation, Palestine has not been able to govern itself independently, let alone establish its own airport. Therefore, the two major points of entry are through Amman, Jordan and Tel Aviv, Israel, neither of which are ideal. The Jordanian route is usually a last resort, infamous for its exhausting delays at the Allenby Bridge, in comparison to equally unattractive prolonged delays via Israel. Still, any person with Palestinian identification is prohibited from traveling through the Ben Gurion Airport (Israel). As a Palestinian-American citizen, I’m fortunate to be able to avoid Jordan yet face plenty of harassment in Israel.
Notorious for treating passengers of Arab descent with excessive questioning, searches and delays, I remained patient as I anxiously awaited my turn to pass Israeli security. Finally, the security official glanced at my passport, read my name aloud and then started to question me about my grandfather’s first name, last name and place of birth. Once I mentioned Palestine, she immediately directed me to go to the waiting area for additional questioning.
Waiting times vary for each individual, however the room consisted of a majority of people with Arab descent; i.e. speaking Arabic, women wearing hijab, etc. This poses several ethical questions. If concerned with security, why do Israeli officials intentionally target passengers of Arab origin? Instead, they should be conducting random searches among all passengers who want to enter their country. Or, is it that their tacit policy which imposes a ban on an entire group of people from traveling through their airport merely an implicit form of apartheid?
An hour later, my name is called. Security officials wanted to know the address and names of the people who I would be staying with. I gave them my families contact information but they failed to find matching records in their database. All of a sudden, the questioning became an interrogation. They wanted to see a copy of my travel itinerary, questioned the length and purpose of my trip, (they couldn’t comprehend why I wanted to visit family for six months.) When asked where my parents and grandparents were born, I responded, “Jerusalem, Pales…” but before, I could even enunciate Palestine fully, he stopped me and threatened, “That kind of language will get you expelled from here.”
Israel’s court system and Israeli lawmakers pride themselves on freedom of speech as a guiding principle; apparently this is only applicable to their Jewish population. A total of two hours later, they informed me that they had found my grandfather’s record, determined that I was not a security risk and said I was free to enter Israel.
Such discriminatory practices negate Israel’s verbal commitment to peace with the Palestinians and rather reflect their commitment to encourage the Palestinian struggle, proving true the adage, “actions speak louder than words.” Moreover, my experience in the Ben Gurion Airport repudiates a western belief that Israel is the only consistent democracy throughout the Middle East. Certainly, this is not true for Palestinian travelers such as myself.
Nejwa Ali is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH).