Palestine

A Surreal Experience – Leaving Palestine Through Ben Gurion, Israel

It was time to go home. I had mixed feelings about leaving Palestine. On one hand I wanted relief from the heavy burden of  the illegal occupation, flashbacks of all the stories I had heard, injured people and injustices I had witnessed first hand, the paranoia of always being watched. On the other hand I had grown attached to this beautiful country and its Palestinian people so loving and welcoming, most of all I didn’t want to leave my newfound friends. I felt we had bonded through our mutual empathy and respect for all human life. Nevertheless it was time to go and I knew I had to be focused, mentally prepare myself for leaving through Ben Gurion airport in Israel, from what I had heard and experienced myself coming in, leaving was going to be an equally unpleasant  experience.

I left for the airport with a group of other volunteers who were on the same flight as me, we travelled from Palestinian territories in a minibus together, which meant it had Palestinian number plates. On arrival at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, I could see the vehicles with Israeli number plates in front of us, being allowed through the gates to the airport without any questions, but when it came to us, we were pulled to one side by Israeli soldiers. Not only did they ask our driver questions at the window, they actually came into our minibus to look at us and ask us where we were going. It was a tension filled moment as the driver had his papers checked, we weren’t sure if it was better to talk or remain silent, so we didn’t talk unless spoken too. What did it remind me of? – Apartheid in South Africa, I could not believe I was actually experiencing this in my life time, this blatant racism is an everyday occurrence for Palestinians. We were asked where we were going and then allowed in, there was no doubt we were being watched and monitored already on our approach to the airport.

Israeli and Palestinian vehicles have identifying number plates

The airport control tower was reminiscent of the watch towers I’d seen throughout occupied Palestine and it made me feel very uneasy. I felt intimidated, which was strange for me to feel at an airport as I usually enjoy going through them and I have been to quite a few, usually I feel airport security are there to keep me safe, but in this scenario I was the one being made to feel like the threat to safety.

I entered the airport and joined the queue for my airline with my friend and almost immediately security personal approached us and told us to join another queue, I didn’t know why, they didn’t even check my passport or even ask me where I was flying too, they simply looked at ME, this was the racial profiling I had been expecting. The queue I was now in was three times as long and moving very slowly, luckily I had got to the airport early, but not too early. There was a sign in front of the queue to, ‘leave luggage unlocked’ they were very transparent about going through all luggage, even checked in luggage would be searched. It really does feel you have to give up all your privacy rights is you ever want to get through his airport, if you refuse you will only be rejected. The sad thing was that I had bought a few souvenirs from Palestine, but I was advised to ship these home and not carry them in my luggage as they would be taken and destroyed, I’m talking about plates and key rings., nothing threatening at all but it seemed that any sign of being in Palestine was forbidden and looked down upon.

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Checked in and hand luggage is asked to be kept unlocked to be seached.

Eventually my turn came and I was asked a few questions, I felt like my answers were irrelevant as my passport was going to be taken anyway, and indeed it was and returned to me with a yellow sticker and a barcode. I didn’t see anyone else have their passport taken away as I was in the queue. You receive a number 1-6 when leaving through Ben Gurion. I had done some research before traveling, these were indications of your perceived threat level / suspicion to Israel – 1 being the lowest and 6 being the highest, and to my surprise I was given a 6. My friend had a 3 (she did not have a Muslim name on her passport).  She was allowed to go through straight to the gate, I was told to wait there and someone would come to, ‘collect me’. I had no idea what was in store for me, I thought it was ridiculous but I remained calm and confident, I was not guilty of anything and I was not prepared to be treated as though I was, I was going to stand my ground no matter what was going to happen. I put everything I had seen out of my mind not to feel any anger in this situation, after all these people were just doing their job, I had to remain civil. I was taken to another queue…

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Yellow sticker security system at Ben Gurion. 6 = Suspected high security threat level.

I seemed to be the only one who could speak English in this queue, most people were speaking Russian, the Israeli airport staff were having problems communicating if it wasn’t in Hebrew, Arabic or English with mostly everyone else. Our bags were scanned, my coat was taken for extra scanning, we had to empty everything out. It was a very high tension environment, I could see some even more heavy duty X-ray scanners nearby. Suddenly the man next to be began to have a panic attack, I asked him if he was ok, ‘I can’t breathe’ replied gasping for breath, with no one around acknowledging what was happening, I called over an Israeli security officer for help. He just looked at me with little concern and asked, ‘Are you together?’ I said ‘no’, in any other situation I would have tried to be more helpful to ensure the person was ok, but in this case I thought it would be best to back away, I couldn’t afford to have any false associations. I really felt for this man, no one really helped him or looked concerned, instead he was made to finish a drink he had on him, even though he could hardly breathe. There was no compassion, or concern. I guess it could have been an elaborate ruse to trick security or distract from something, you never know.

Next we had to take everything out of our hand luggage for another very through check and I mean EVERYTHING. Every single pocket lining and seam was searched. I was made to sit while I was asked what everything was, and to switch on my camera for them to have a look through it. Then I was asked in a very serious tone if I had any weapons or dangerous items on me, and of course I didn’t. I was then informed I would need to be, ‘body searched’, I dreaded these words, was it just a dress up for, ‘strip search’? I only had 10 mins left before my flight was due to leave, I was hoping this would work in my favor. I was asked to step inside what I would call a ‘box’ at the side of the area, not big enough to be called a room, there was just about enough space in there for the two women and myself, we kept brushing each other as they began to search me. ‘Take off your top and shoes’ I complied, my shoes were taken to be scanned for traces of explosives, they were covered in mud from working in the Palestinian fields, even though I had tried to wash them some still remained, I was hoping I wouldn’t be asked about this. I was dreading being asked to take any more off, but I didn’t want to show it. Knowing I may be subjected to this I had purposely worn several layers of clothing, which I think they found a bit strange.

I was thoroughly searched multiple times, all the seams in my clothing, my hair, inside my ears, I really was trying to work out what I could possibly hide there. Then suddenly the metal detector went crazy because of some metal in my jeans, the both looked at each other as though they had found my concealed weapon, I was dreading being asked to take them off so I frantically tried explained that it was the metal on my jeans and I could quite obviously not have concealed anything as there was no space. I informed them it was almost time for my flight to leave. They took a minute to speak to each other in Hebrew and said they would call the plane and let them know I was running late, but I didn’t see any calls being made, they decided to let me go without saying they were done I was pretty much left, I retrieved my top and my shoes, picked up my coat which had been x-rayed and re-packed my hand luggage then quickly moved on. It felt as thought they would have kept me up until this point no matter what and I would have been there longer if there had been more time. No questions were asked, I was very surprised but I felt as though they just wanted me out of the country as soon as possible as though I was very unwelcome there, it was a weird feeling.

I still had to go through passport control and the queue was extremely long, I didn’t think I was going to make it, I asked the airport officer he told me to use the machines which of course I couldn’t because I’m not an Israeli citizen! I looked around and saw a Jewish women with a British passport in her hand, she has to be on the same flight as me I thought, so I approached her and said I was concerned we were going to miss our flight, she was there late because she had been shopping in the duty-free. She was a very confident lady and she told me to stick with her and we jumped the queue together as she announced we were going to miss our flight if people didn’t let us through, I was grateful for her help. I spoke to her briefly on the other side, she seemed to be a lovely woman, who had never been stopped or questioned and was having a very relaxing experience, I was having the exact opposite. I told her about my extra search and she was very surprised, she had never heard that happen to anyone before. The differences between our experiences was very interesting,

Passport Control

I had made it to the gate, where I met my other friends, we had all had different experiences. Everyone else had seemed to have had a military escort to the plane, whereas I was just left to make my own way and if I hadn’t jumped the queue I would never had made it. Others were stripped down to their underwear and others were even asked to remove theirs. You could see they were in physical shock from this experience, I felt really angry for them, now months later they still feel traumatized from it. I believe the Israeli authorities want to make entry and exit into Israel a very unpleasant experience for anyone they suspect of humanitarian work, so they do not want to return.

We boarded our flight. The majority of the people on our flight were Ultra-Orthodox Jews, coming to the UK to attend a family wedding. They did not acknowledge our presence at all, I’m not talking about a smile I’m talking about not even being looked it, I felt so invisible, like I wasn’t a fellow human being, it was just a very strange feeling but it echoed what I had seen in Palestine.

As I got to my seat, there was a Ultra-Orthhodox Jewish man sitting in it, I got his attention and said, ‘excuse me I think you are sitting in my seat’, he literally jumped up, tried to avoid all eye contact with me and immediately informed the air stewardess who was also female, that he could no longer sit in the seat, as it would be next to a woman (me). I was tired, I had been through a lot I just wanted to sit down at this point and not have any more drama but I couldn’t until this was sorted. I asked my friend a few seats down to swap with the man, but then he said he couldn’t sit there because there was a woman in the next seat, then we found another seat, but another man would have to move, but he said he couldn’t move because then he would be sitting next to a women! It was actually so ridiculous, we had all paid for randomly selected seats on this budget airline, it was comical and we all did burst into laughter.

Just to make a point, a Muslim woman once refused to sit next to my brother on a flight from Asia because he was male, I ended up having to sit next to her. I was extremely annoyed, because we were flying to the UK were there is mass integration what was she expecting to do when she got there?! She tried to talk to me several times, and I was not in the mood for conversation at all.

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Full flight home

We must have spent at least 10 minutes trying to shuffle seats so everyone was happy to sit down, eventually a Jewish man offered to sit next to me, I thanked him. He was a gentleman, even though I just wanted to listen to close my eyes and listen to my music, I could tell he wanted to have a conversation and I didn’t want to seem rude. He told me he was visiting his daughter who was an ‘Olah’, I had to ask him what that was, he said it meant she had taken dual citizenship in Israel as well as the UK. My heart sank thinking she was probably now living on one of the illegally built luxury settlements I had seen on occupied Palestinian land. It also dawned on me that after spending some time talking to this man, he was actually a lovely man, and maybe he did not know about what was really going on? But how could he not? I couldn’t be certain what he knew and what his thoughts on the matter were, I decided I was not going to try to find out either, it wasn’t the time or the place. I told him I had been visiting the Holy Sites of Jerusalem and didn’t go into too much detail.

Our flight was very turbulent, yet half of the people on the flight refused to sit down, there was a group of Jewish men at the front, standing and praying. Now I have no problem with people exercising their faith, but there was a blatant disregard for flight safety here, the seat belts sign was on and everyone was being asked to sit down, in my heart I felt that if they had been Muslim men it would have instantly been seen as an act of terrorism. We live by a lot of double standards in our society. The man I was sitting with told me he had been on several flights from Tel Aviv but never seen anything like this, we laughed about it.

Eventually the pilot made an announcement demanding people sit down or said he would be forced to call the British Aviation Police on landing. No one listened. It was absolute chaos, the flight staff were literally shouting at people and it make it even more strange I could see a man in the front rows making balloon animals and passing them around! The air stewardess had been working for 11 years on this route and said she had never had a flight like this. She was constantly being called for assistance and couldn’t even walk down the aisle as people were constantly in the way, I did feel bad for her but she dealt with it in an amazingly professional manner!

As we landed we were not allowed off the aircraft until the Aviation police actually came to ‘escort’ certain passengers off the plane, it turns out someone had tried to charge their mobile phone using the control panel and they had contacted ground control. I thanked the staff as I left the aircraft, I was happy to be home.

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It was a very surreal experience, a somewhat comical end to a very serious period of time I had spent in Palestine, but it was as intricately layered with emotions as is the situation that’s going on there. It took me months to process what I had seen and felt to accept it and to return to my own reality. I spent about a week trying to avoid anyone who wanted to hear about my trip, because I just couldn’t express how I felt or knew how to describe it, really deep feelings were stirred up in me. I don’t think I will ever be the same person again and now I feel as though I have the confidence after experiencing what I did to stand up for what I believe is right. No one will ever take that away from me. It is true what they say, once you leave Palestine, you leave a part of your heart there and I know I will be back in Palestine one day (iA), there is still much work to be done, and one day Palestine will be free.

Our flight even made the newspapers: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4227922/Orthodox-Jewish-men-cause-bedlam-easyJet-flight.html

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Palestine

Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel

Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) in Lod – Israel, is notorious for being the one of the world’s most secure to enter and exit, and it’s no secret it’s security measures are based on racial profiling. I had heard many ‘horror stories’ of entering Israel through this route and was advised by many people to fly through Jordan to reach Jerusalem, which some say is easier (I think that is also debatable). Could being a Muslim really change the world’s perception of me that much? I had done my research, felt prepared and wanted to experience this for myself, so I decided to brave the flight into Israel via Tel Aviv to reach the Holy Land.

On disembarking the plane and walking through arrivals my friend and I were faced by many Pro-Zionist posters and false propaganda which made me feel a little uncomfortable, I took a minute to stop and take it all in, then it actually hit me I had landed in Israel. Up until this point we hadn’t been asked any questions and I had a feeling things were about to change.

The queue for passport control was moving fast, as my turn came, my Arabic name was read and I was given a different look, asked a few more questions such as where my father was born, when I replied, ‘Pakistan’ someone was called over to take my passport. I myself have been born and raised in the UK so being judged due to the birthplace of my father as I often am crossing borders always baffles me. My friend who was Indian then showed her passport, she was asked if she had ever been to Pakistan, when she said, ‘no’, she was instantly given an entry visa and told to proceed. I was however shown to the, ‘waiting room’ for what would soon turn into a SEVEN hour ordeal…

I was grateful my friend decided to wait with me, we had agreed were in it together. The room was quite small with a TV. I couldn’t recognize anyone from my flight and we all seemed to be ethnic minorities waiting, some of whom looked as though they had been here before and knew the deal. Me being me, tried to engage eye contact and start a conversation but there was no interaction, people were not trying to stay in this room and make friends, it was pretty much everyone for themselves, any false associations could lead to more trouble.

Two hours later, without any explanation to why I had been detained, I was called into a small back room to see the immigration officer who pointed to the visa for Pakistan in my passport asking if I had been to Syria. I had never actually been to Syria, but he did not believe me even though the name of the airport could clearly be seen on the visa stamp, ‘Allama Iqbal International Airport, Lahore’. He was annoyed as though I had lied to him, I was tempted to look it up on my phone to show him but I thought this would make matters worse, highlighting his ignorance. He asked me to return to the waiting room. At this moment, I realized without any words, being Pakistani was a almost a crime upon entering Israel, due to their very colorful history. At this point, my genetics were enough to make me a ‘suspected terrorist’ and boy did they make me feel like one! It really was one of those situations where you feel as though you could be, ‘framed’ for any number of things and if you are, no one would even be able to help you, your fate is completely at the hands of someone else, and that someone else does not like you.. at all.

I was then made to wait a few more hours, people were slowly being given their passports back, I instead was bought a bottle of water and a sandwich so I knew I was not going anywhere, it was time to get comfortable! Despite the situation I did appreciate being given the food and water, not that I ate it, I had come prepared with my own food for this eventuality. I was realizing I was going to be the last one left in the room and the longer I wanted the higher the chances were of me being deported.

I was then told to go to a different room in the back, the room was very small luckily the door was kept open, otherwise I would have suddenly have developed claustrophobia. ‘How are you?’ asked the lady about to question me very politely, ‘I’m fine thank you’ I replied smiling and trying to keep calm, ‘How are you?’ I attempted to match the small talk. We sat down and she informed me, ‘Now you are in the Security Control Room, I do not care why you are in Israel, who you are working for of if you are with any volunteer groups. It is my job to assess if you are a threat to the sate of Israel’ I was half offended, half flattered, but very confused! First of all it seemed I had offended Israeli security by having the audacity to enter Israel being Pakistani and secondly it was a crime if you were a humanitarian volunteer (which was such a crazy thing to hear to me, and it also meant I had something to hide). It was at this point, I knew all the harsh stories about airport control were actually true and they were taking this very seriously.

My eyes fixated on a photo of Jerusalem on the wall, the beauty of the Dome of the Rock was dominating the photo so I kept looking at it as a beacon of hope, this is where I REALLY wanted to be. I pictured walking on the grounds. I knew I had to be confident and maintained eye contact and conviction throughout answering all of my questions, I knew my body language was being monitored, I knew this woman was skillfully trained in interrogation techniques. I knew the outcome of this conversation would determine if I was going to be allowed into Israel or deported. Many had been in this position before me, some had succeeded, some had failed, but I was not giving up without a fight so I remained as focused as I could, without looking nervous.

‘What is your grandfather’s name and date of birth?’ was the first question she asked me, with embarrassment I said I didn’t know. I thought this was quite a random question to open with but if anything I think it was to gauge a reaction.

She handed me a pen and piece of paper, ‘write down all of your email addresses, phone numbers and home address’ she was then frantically searching these online to find any information about me that she could. I hoped nothing embarrassing or incriminating would come up, because you never know. ‘List all of your father’s brother’s names and dates of birth’, as I did she searched on a computer for what I assume was any, ‘terrorist’ links to my family names online, she shouted some names out at me asking if I knew them and of course, I didn’t. I was concerned because Arabic names are very common and I could have been falsely linked to anyone with the same name, and denial would have been futile, but she was going by the rough age groups. I had taken photos of my parent’s passports so when she asked me about their date of birth and place of birth I showed her the photos, ‘why do you have these’ she said looking very confused, ‘because I knew you would ask me’ I said feeling maybe a bit too organised lol.

‘Why are you in Israel?’ she asked. ‘I want to visit the Dome of the Rock and Masjid Al-Aqsa for my birthday, it has always been my dream to visit Jerusalem’ I replied which I meant from the bottom of my heart. ‘OK where else will you go in Israel?’ she asked, ‘I’m not sure yet, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and perhaps… Ramallah’. A sudden smirk appeared on her face, ‘Why Ramallah?’. I said, ‘Why not, I would like to see Ramallah it is a very famous city’. She smiled in disagreement, ‘Ramallah is not famous’ to which I cheekily said, ‘everyone in the world knows Ramallah’. Now if you don’t know, Ramallah is known as the capital of Palestine, so it made my political associations very clear here at this point. We both knew the situation but there was complete denial about acknowledging  it to each other and the facade continued.

Even though I was expecting it, to my horror, I was then asked to unlock my phone and hand it over nonchalantly as if it was a normal procedure, well maybe it is in Israel. She began looking through my personal emails, Facebook and whats app messages. Even though I had nothing to hide, it was an invasion of my privacy. I had taken my work contract and ID card which she used to look up online, ‘can you show me your LinkedIn profile?’ as if to verify I was not carrying a false identity of job, ‘sure’, I said as I opened the app. Luckily for me my everyday job is not political at all, so it was fine. I was asked who people messaging me with Arabic names were. This was a total violation of my privacy I had nothing to hide but I did not want a stranger going through my personal information, if I had refused I knew I would have been refused entry to Israel point blank, so I had no choice.

‘Did you book your own flight’, ‘yes I did’. ‘Why did you also book your friend’s flight?’ she asked, I said ‘because I’m organised’, I didn’t think there was anything suspicious about doing this. ‘Show me the date you booked your flight’ she requested so I retrieved the email on my phone. Easy, but then was the problem, ‘Where will you stay?’ she asked, ‘Bethlehem, Sahara Hotel’ show me your hotel booking, ‘I haven’t booked it, I was just going to show up’. Her facial expressions changed, ‘No one comes to Israel without somewhere to stay’ she said angrily. ‘I wasn’t sure if I would get in and I didn’t want to waste my money’ I img_0665said without thinking. The tone of the conversation had changed, ‘why would you not get into Israel’ she said in complete denial that people are rejected every day for no reason at all. ‘Who do you know who has not got into Israel and why’? This was a question I could not answer, I did know people who had been denied entry, but they were not guilty of anything other than being Pakistani, I gave half a name for her to search online. I felt like I had slipped up and made a huge mistake here, even though it was an innocent one, it sounded as though I was trying to cover something up when I actually wasn’t at all.

We carried on talking, there was slight passive aggression but we kept things friendly, I did not want to come across rude and tried to build a rapport and be as honest as possible, after all I had nothing to hide. We managed to make some small talk about relationships and failed friendships which I am not sure if was genuine or not but it was something we both connected on as women, ‘I have also been through similar things’ she said.e went back to her ‘friendly persona’ telling me not to worry, ‘I know exactly what type of person you are’, I am not sure what she meant but, I assume a peace activist (which I cannot see as a bad thing?!). I replied with, ‘good, I am happy to answer any questions’.

However some of the questions were so twisted that i was made to feel like a liar, even though I was telling the truth and being accused of lying. You feel backed into a corner so much so it’s difficult to not get sucked into the lie. She listed several countries asking if I had been to them, but added Syria into the middle as if to trick me into a confession for going to a country I had never been too, but I was alert and denied this as quickly and sternly as I could. The staff had clearly been highly training in interrogation techniques and reading body language.

Next what struck me was the assumption that I was a Muslim, I was never asked but this was just assumed by my name, so I really feel for those who have Arabic names by heritage but are not Muslim. Even though at the same time why should that even matter, we are all individuals with out own interpretation of religion. I was asked what type of Muslim I was, ‘Sunni or Shia?’. I’m assuming one sect is seen as more dangerous than the other. I guess this part of the questioning was to assess my ‘Islamic terrorist threat level’. ‘How many times a day do you pray?’ she asked, which I think is a very personal question, I responded with a somewhat sarcastic tone, ‘I don’t pray 5 times a day and as you can see I do not wear a hijab’ Plus I was thinking of all the prayers I had missed while I had been kept in detainment. ‘OK’ I felt mocking me, Now I didn’t feel British or a good Muslim! lol ‘Do you have a favorite Surah from the Quran?’ Now this I didn’t want to answer in case any of the text was misinterpreted, so I said I didn’t have one, but liked many verses, which is also very true. I was asked the name of my local mosque so it could be searched online to see if it preached any hate. She asked me the same questions about my friend, who wasn’t asked anything herself at all, I don’t feel comfortable answering about people’s religious views and faith on their behalf.

Then came the relationship questions, was I married, was I seeing anyone etc.. I honestly didn’t think the Israeli border control would be so interested in my love life, being Asian there is enough pressure about not being married in your 30’s but here I was getting it from the IDF as well! I’m assuming this was to determine if I was visiting a Palestinian boyfriend.

I was asked my questions about the friend I was traveling with, her date of birth, full name, how we know each other, how long have we known each other. In prep for the trip I did ask her to confirm her age to me but in the fashion of older women, she didn’t want me to know her age, so as I was asked this question it did look suspicious I didn’t know. I went into a lot of detail of how we knew each other.

She searched my phone for Palestinian / Israeli numbers and found the British Consulate, ‘Why do you have this?’ she said thinking it was very suspicious. ‘As a British citizen when I travel abroad, I always like to have this contact for emergencies’ I replied which is actually true, but I felt that she did not buy this reason. ‘Why do you have these other numbers?’ she had found some of my contacts from various organisations I was going to meet, ‘I just found these online in case I want to do some tourist activities’ I replied. Again she was very suspicious but then her eyes moved to my mobile phone screen, it was a photo of me with Nasir Jones. ‘who is that’ she asked me, I replied, ‘That’s Nas he’s my favorite rapper from America’. To this she replied, ‘You’re very lucky to have a photo with him’ and I knew at this point I was very lucky indeed!! Call me crazy but I feel this was the point where my suspected terrorist threat level was reduced, after all I was into American music! After this I was asked to go back to the waiting room, I really felt I had blown it by having phone numbers in my phone, but then my photo with Nas could have balanced it out, I had to just wait and see.

Back in the waiting room I was given another bottle of water and a sandwich, while I guess they did some more digging on me. I was switched between room so the airport staff could use the waiting room to have their lunch whilst watching the TV. I peered into one of the offices where an Israeli security official was filing her nails. The staff seemed very relaxed, after all they didn’t have anywhere to go, and they were the ones in control of my fate.

The thought of spending a night in a prison cell after a 5 hour flight and 7 hour detainment was not appealing to me, I wanted to feel the air on my skin and I was determined to have come this far to be release. Even though it’s not even close, I spared a moment’s thought for all the political prisoners in the world, those who are completely at the hands of crooked institutions. I looked at the wall and it was a huge pillar, I imagined this is what many of the walls in Jerusalem would look like.

Finally after another 3 hours of waiting, I was handed my passport without any words, I was free to enter Israel. I was so happy the ordeal was over. I felt very lucky to have gained entry as many I know had been denied, and now I felt I had earned it. Our visas wouldn’t scan for automatic exit, as we had ‘been in the office’ so we had to ask security personnel to let us out.  Eventually we found our luggage which had just been dumped unattended in the baggage hall for 7 hours. There were many bags but I couldn’t see anyone else at the airport, had all of these people been deported? Were they in different rooms?

Of course now we were running 7 hours behind schedule to leave the airport, it was midnight and we were unable to get a direct taxi to Bethlehem as it was in Palestinian territories. The only option was to get the shared shuttle bus to the Gilo 300 checkpoint on which we met the most charming young rabbi from LA who was studying in Jerusalem for a year, but had also studied at UCL in London. I made a comment that the streets were completely empty, ‘it’s Shabbat’ he said, of course I hadn’t realized. We were the last drop off by the bus to to the checkpoint which we had to cross on foot, as we did armed Israeli soldiers began to shout at us in Hebrew, not being able to understand I took out my British passport and they signaled for us to come closer. Once they saw we were British their attitude totally changed, ‘Welcome to Israel’ they said as they blew us kisses. It was very strange. We crossed the checkpoint which was completely empty because it was so late, but I could imagine it would be like herding cattle during the day the way it was set out. On the other side there was only one taxi driver who was wearing a balaclava (it was very cold), though this seemed a little intimidating we had no choice and by this point all I wanted to do was get to my hotel! So we took the ride and finally arrived at 3 am where the poor hotel staff had been waiting for us to arrive several hours earlier.

I’ve never been so openly objectified to racial profiling in my entire life, and to have it from state security in 2017 is mind blowing to me. Despite this I am happy for this experience because unless you are actually in these shoes you will never know how it feels and unfortunately for many people this will never be the case. If this was an effort to deter me from every trying to return, it will not work because for people like myself, the harder you try and make life for us, the harder we will try to resist. Palestinian people have to go through this on a daily basis, I had to only do it once to stand with them in solidarity.

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