Greetings from Hebron! I’m finally here. I say finally because I spent over two days trying to get here. My trip was similar to most, and I won’t bore you with the details of flights, layovers, and transportation, but there is one part that may be of interest. Crossing the boarder into Israel.
Instead of flying directly into Israel I flew into Jordan, stayed over night, and crossed the boarder the next day. Had I chosen to fly into Israel, I would have taken a bus from the airport to Jerusalem, then a different bus to Bethlehem, then a taxi to Hebron. Instead I flew into Jordan; got a ride to my Uncle’s house for the night; took a taxi to the boarder; went through the Jordanian side; took a bus to the Israeli side; went through security there; then took a bus to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a taxi to Hebron. This itinerary was far more confusing, and time consuming, but I crossed the boarder, instead of going into the airport because the security at the boarder tends to be a bit more relaxed than entering through the airport. This hopefully leads to the question of why a young American, with no criminal record, entering the country in the name of peace, would be worried about security. I’m glad you asked.
In the eyes of the Israeli government I have three strikes against me (and being a baseball enthusiast, I worry that three strikes will mean I’m out).
The first strike is that I am Arab. The boarder patrol discovered this because on my American passport, my middle name, Daoud, is written. Based on this fact alone, having an Arab middle name, Israel has the right to hold me, and question me. This is racial profiling, but it is the law here. My hope was they wouldn’t notice this, but they did. I was taken to the side, all my bags were searched and I was questioned, then had to wait a few hours while they had my passport to find out if I could cross. Luckily, I was only questioned for about 20 minutes. At the airport this would take a few hours with multiple interrogators (ask my brother Jameel about that experience).
The questioner started by asking, “Why do you have an American first and last name but an Arabic middle name?” As if my European last name was more American, than my Arab middle name. This dichotomy on his part left me in the odd position of either giving honest, but misleading answers (I was named after my American uncle); more information than he asked for, which could get me in trouble (I was named after my American Uncle, who is Arab); or taking on his assumption (I’m named after my Arab uncle). I didn’t want to seem misleading, but I didn’t want to be too revealing either. This is a dilemma I would continue to be presented.
The second strike against me was that I was going into the occupied territory. (Palestine, or the West Bank, has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967). Specifically, I was going into Hebron, which is, by most accounts, the worst situation for Palestinians in the occupied territory. Israel is extra caution of allowing people into those areas, and if they fond out that one is going there, they become extra suspicious and ask extra questions. Some may say it is because Israel wants to hide what it is doing here, others may say Israel is suspicious of people wanting to visit its ‘enemies’. Either way I hoped I would not be questioned about where I would be staying. I could tell them I was staying with my family in Jerusalem (In a neighborhood which is both Israeli and Palestinian), and that wouldn’t be a lie (I’m spending a few of my days off with them), but it would be misleading. But if I told the truth, that would raise more suspicions and lead to more questions. The dilemma again.
The third strike against me, and my biggest worry, is that I am coming to the country as a peace activist. Israel, over the last few years, has been cracking down peace activists. Last night a CPTer was telling me how ten years ago he would risk arrest, knowing that he probably wouldn’t stand trial, and would be released. Today, Israel can deport an international without trial, so if I get arrested chances are I’ll be coming home early.
And if Israeli security found out that I am an ‘Arab’ peace activist going to the West Bank, I’m probably not getting in. Luckily, with some creative question answering, I was able to avoid telling them that I was a peace activist, and that I was working in Hebron. Thankfully I didn’t have to go through the hours of interrogation that I most likely would have at the airport.
In case you think I’m being paranoid, here is a newscast about Israel’s recent implementation of laws concerning internationals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv9cV38cECQ (Don’t ask me why there are Navi in it).
This was my story of crossing the boarder, but it is the story of many Palestinians. Palestinian citizens wanting to cross the boarder or leave the country have to jump through far more time consuming hoops than I had to. Those who are from Jerusalem are not considered Palestinian citizens, and can be sent away as easily as I can, even though their homes are here.
Call to Prayer*:
For all those who are looked at with suspicion based on their ethnicity.
For Palestinians who do not have freedom of travel.
For me in the process of becoming a part of the team, and this community.
For continued wisdom of what to say, what not to say, and how to say it.
*I’ve been awakened by Islamic calls to prayer the last few nights. While it is somewhat intrusive, I have been using it as a reminder to myself to pray. It seems a fitting header for my prayer requests.