Note: The title is intentionally misspelled to reflect the spelling error on Israel’s ‘Entery Denied’ stamp. See picture below for proof.
I’ve crossed into Israel 3 times over the past year. I have been lucky to get through with less trouble then others. Well all those lucky breaks I got in the other three crossings did not last to my fourth entry.
I left my Uncle’s house in Amman for the Jordan/ West Bank border (which is under Israeli control) at 9 in the morning. The border is the Jordan river, which is at a very low altitude, and very hot. At the border I went through the Jordanian security, got on a bus to the Israeli side and waited in line. At this point a security person took my bag for me to pick up when I got through. When I got to the first person who looks at the passports she didn’t even notice the multiple Israeli stamps in my passport, but instead noticed my middle name, Daoud (Which I’ve mentioned before is an Arab translation of David). At this point I was asked to stand to the side and eventually escorted through the medal detectors to the area where questionable characters wait to be questioned. Now I’ve been flagged for my name before, and sent to the questionable characters section, but never escorted, I don’t know why this time I was, but it was a bad omen.
As most of you know I’ve had some fun with the questioning process, it’s often a kind of dance figuring out how to answer the questions without giving them the information they want. This time the questions were direct and unavoidable. She asked, “Why do you have an Arab middle name?” and before giving me the opportunity to answer, “Where was your mother born?” My answer to this question raised her suspicions. She assumed that I must be a Muslim, and I gave her a history lesson about the robust Christian population in Palestine. This put her at ease, and soon I was on to the next station. (Please pause a second to think of the extreme prejudice that went into that questioning) This is the station where I would get my passport stamped and go through. I thought to myself, “I’m so close.” (I wasn’t so close)
I got up to the counter and the guy said, “Same reason as last time?” I thought, “Well this will be easy I won’t even have to answer a question about what I’m doing, he’s already got the information.” Then he said, “So you’re visiting your cousin, what’s her phone number?” Now in an earlier crossing I used my cousin as a contact, and said I was visiting her. To do this I coordinated with her to make sure she was available and ready to answer questions. I did none of this coordination this time. When I told the guard that I didn’t have her number ready he got irritated. “This is not OK, you come in here and you say your visiting her every time and you don’t have her number!?!” Now I hadn’t said I was visiting her since the first time, and he implied it this time. Started explaining that that wasn’t the primary reason, he didn’t seem interested, then I remembered that I had her number in my Palestine Cell phone which I had with me. I got it out and gave it to the guy. I was worried that I hadn’t contacted her and had no idea if she would be free. (She wasn’t free)
He took the information then handed me a piece of paper to fill out in the other waiting area for questionable people. This one was full. I waited for someone to come pick up the paper for a couple of hours. Finally someone came out for me, but didn’t take the paper (I still have that paper, no one wanted to see it). The person explained that she would ask the same questions as the passport stamper guy, and she did and went away. So far things were going about as expected. The next step should have been for someone to come out with my passport and a new visa. I waited for that next step, and I waited, and I waited. Luckily I had a book with me and distractedly read five or so chapters while waiting. During this waiting period I realized that the sitting area was directly under the air conditioning vent. I dressed for the hot desert not for the cold indoor AC, and all my warmer clothes were in my bag on the other side of security. Finally a soldier came out to ask me some question. I had not tried to hide the truth through the whole processes. Since I was flagged right away it was clear that they would do a lot of background checks on me. The funny thing is that the soldier had trouble believing my true story. He asked for proof that I worked with CPT, and I didn’t have any with me. Usually the trouble is distancing ourselves from the organization, I had trouble connecting myself too it. The soldier went away and I went back to my seat.
By this time about three waves of people had come and gone from the questionable people area. It was so late that there were very few people coming in and out any more. I was starting to get worried. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read, so I just sat there shivering, hoping to see someone come out with my passport.
The soldier came out again holding my passport, and I thought, “This is it.” He came up to me and said, “Your last name is Brenneman, any chance your Jewish?” Now if I was Jewish this whole nightmare would be over immediately. Heck, if I was Jewish I could just demand to become a citizen right there and then an live the rest of my life in the country without ever leaving! But alas, I’m not Jewish, though I told him, “Maybe somewhere in my lineage, if it helps, I can’t be sure.” (It didn’t work) He just nodded his head and told me to sit and wait again. He was probably trying to help me out, but his gesture just reinforced the extreme racism of Israel.
When I got back there was one other person sitting, who had just come. She asked me how long I’d been waiting and I said 5 hours. She was surprised, then asked if I had eaten or drank anything and I realized two things. One is that I had not had anything to eat or drink in that time. Two, that I was so nervous and my stomach so tight I wasn’t sure that I could keep anything down. So I just sat there. As my mind raced I got my phone out and realized that I had service, so I updated the team about what was happening through text. I soon ran out of credit and had no way of contacting anyone.
Finally the soldier came back and had some more questions to ask me. This time it was about CPT. He mentioned that he had been stationed in Hebron for a bit. This wasn’t the greatest news. We talked about the nature of peacemaking, and at one point he asked, in an almost conversational way, “Do you really think you’re helping people?” I said yes we were helping people, and in a way we were helping Palestinians and Israelis and even the Israeli soldiers. He was taken aback by this and asked me to clarify. As I began to another soldier interrupted to talk to him. When he came back he had forgotten the question and said, “I know a commander in Hebron I’ll ask him and we’ll see.” This was worrying news, as the relationship between CPT and the current commander in Hebron has been even more tense then usual.
So I sat back down. By this time I was basically a zombie. I had the thousand mile stare, and I couldn’t stop from shaking either from the cold or from nervousness, I couldn’t tell by this point.
The soldier came back out with a commander. He started to calmly explain what was happening, but the commander interrupted saying, “Go back.” The commander’s English wasn’t very good, but he did get his point across. The soldier elaborated saying, “The commander says your organization doesn’t work with our organizations.” I do not know what he meant by this, or why this would keep me from being allowed in or who ‘our organizations’ were. I asked for more clarification but he just said, “For security reasons we are not letting you in.” This is the line they always use, because the more general they are for the reasons the harder it is to challenge the reason. He then added, “I would suggest going to the Israeli embassy in Jordan and asking them for a letter then come back here with everything you need.” I asked “What is everything I need?” “A letter from the ambassador, proof that you are with your organization, your flight itinerary, and more money.” he answered. I took note of this. I asked if I get a phone call. The soldier said, “You’re not under arrest or anything, but if you need you can borrow my phone.” So I made a quick call to the team. I was then told to sit and wait for someone to come and escort me to my luggage.
After 7 hours of waiting to be allowed in I was in no mood to wait to get out, but had no choice. I was escorted to my bag then escorted out of the air conditioned building, to wait for the bus back to the Jordanian side. I finally began to thaw. I got a call from my team and was able to explain to them what had happened right before the bus pulled up. On the way to the Jordanian side we had to stop and I had to explain why I had gotten turned back, which was difficult to do without a specific reason from the Israeli soldiers. And “Just ask them.” was not seen as a cooperative answer by the Jordanian security. When they finally let me through and I got back to the Jordanian side, I was again questioned a second time so they could write a report. Then I was told to wait for the hundredth time that day. Finally they said I could go and for the first time in 9 hours I was allowed to hold my passport. I noticed something interesting about it. On the page with the bright red ‘Entery Denied’ stamp was an ‘Entry’ stamp. I don’t know what happened behind closed doors, but at one point they were prepared to let me in, and then changed their mind.
At least I was free to go. I at this moment realized that I didn’t have enough Jordanian Dinars (money) to get me back to my Uncles house. (But at least I had an uncle who could house me). I had plenty of Israeli Shekel’s but it was so late that the border was closed and there were no money changers. I did locate an ATM. I was worried because while in the airport the day before my debit card was denied at a shop. If for some reason my bank had cut me off I had no idea how I could get home. Thankfully the ATM took my money, and the cabbie knew Amman well enough that I could give him directions to my uncles house.
I arrived there at 9 in the evening. My Aunt heated up some food for me as soon as I got in, and after a brief debriefing we all started scheming of possible ways to get me back into Palestine.
I’m now staying at my Uncle’s house for a couple of weeks to see if any of these schemes will work. I’ll keep you up to date, and would appreciate your prayers.
That I find a way into Palestine.
That the CPT team is able to cover all our obligations with one less person for a while.