Palestinian Brit trying to volunteer in Bethlehem interrogated for five hours at Ben Gurion airport

Israel/Palestine
on 10 Comments

Anonymous, 18, is a Greek-Palestinian British student who lives in London. The author usually goes to Jordan every 2 years, but never had the chance to go to Palestine and hoped to this year as part of a volunteering program. Knowing there would be difficulties at the airport, but never expected what happened. Anonymous says, “What shocked me that even though I had a British passport they still gave me a hard time, I felt like I was a criminal.”

I’m an 18 year old student, born and raised in London. Throughout my whole life my parents have brought me up to be proud of my Palestinian roots, I was brought up listening to stories from my father and grandparents about Ain Karem, my village.  It has always been a dream of mine to be able to visit my homeland, Palestine, and this year in October I had the opportunity to finally go, I was going to go to the Palestinian territories to volunteer in a school in Bethlehem. I was told to not tell the Israeli authority the real purpose of my visit to Palestine, activists and volunteers are usually not allowed to enter Israel. I knew that I was going to face many problems at Ben Gurion airport, due to my Palestinian background.

I arrived at Ben Gurion airport, I showed my passport to the lady at border control, she looked at my name on my British passport and immediately she called border security. I was escorted by two security men to a waiting room. After 30 minutes a man called me to his office, the questions he asked were:

“Where was your father born?”

“Where was your grandfather born?”

“What is your father’s name?

“What is your grandfather’s name?”

“What is your great grandfather’s name?”

“Which part of Israel are you from?”

Then they asked me what the purpose of my trip to Israel was, I told them that I was visiting Israel for tourism. The first part of the interrogation had finished. My legs and arms were shaking, but I made sure that I didn’t show them that I was frightened.

Two hours had gone by and I was still waiting, a second man called me in to another room for questioning, this time I could sense that they were going to be really tough. I walked into the room and there was also another man sitting in the background. Again the man asked me the same questions. However this time they wanted all the details of my stay. I was prepared for these questions, at this point the Israeli authority still thought that I was in Israel for tourism. They asked me: “where are you going to stay?” I told them that I was planning to stay at a hotel in Jerusalem. They also asked me why me parents didn’t come with me, how much money I had on me. They also wanted contact details of my family in Jordan. I refused to give them such details.

The man then told me, write my e-mail address on a piece of paper. “Can you write your email address and password for us?” I simply replied, “No mate, I don’t think so, that’s illegal.” He just laughed and took my email address only (they still managed to hack into my personal email either way).

The interrogation stopped for 45 minutes and a different man came into the room to ask me further questions. He sat down, looked at me in the eyes and said “You’re a liar.” At this point I knew that they had hacked into my email account and seen my emails to the Palestinian volunteering organisation. The man then said to me:

“I know you lied, see the man at the back, he’s a psychologist and he was examining your body language throughout the whole process… why did you lie about your volunteering placement?”

My reply: “It’s not really my fault to be honest, you people give the impression that you want to kill any Palestinian activist or volunteer, this is why all people lie to you. I’m not stupid I know that you detained me because of my Arabic name.” His eyes turned red from anger. He banged his hand on the table and told me to be careful or I will be on the blacklist.

He quickly left the room and after an hour two women came in and asked me the same questions but in different ways. At this point I wasn’t scared, it just turned into a joke for me. They asked me:

“Why did your mum marry your dad? She’s non-Arab.”

I replied, “erm because she fancied him.” I could tell that they were getting agitated.

Then they asked me “Why did your dad move to London?”

I replied “because he wanted to be closer to the London eye,” and they looked at each other and said something in Hebrew.

They then asked me specific questions about my family in Jordan. “Which exact area was your dad born in?” My reply was, “Look guys I don’t know, I know you know the answer to that because you have my whole family history in your computer system so why waste my time in asking me these questions, just check in your computer, so I can find out myself.” They looked at me and just laughed, they then left.

I was in that room for at least 3 hours, I was not allowed to contact anyone, I was more worried with the fact that the taxi driver waiting for me might have left. After an hour another two men took me in for questioning, again, same questions were asked, we were just going around in circles, the Israeli authorities aim to make you nervous, but I didn’t care. At that point it was all a joke for me.

After five hours I finally got my Israeli Visa. As I walked out of the departures area, I started to panic because I could not see the taxi driver, I went to customer services and I told them that if I don’t find the taxi driver they will have to book me a hotel in Jerusalem so I could stay the night and then travel to Bethlehem the next day. As I was talking to them I saw my name, the taxi driver was there, a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The taxi driver waited for 5 hours, he was a Palestinian man named Mohammad. Every 20 minutes he would call border control to tell them to release me, he told them to tell me that he would be waiting for me until I got out, but they did not tell me, they knew that the only thing that was making me panic was the thought of the taxi driver not being there.

On my way back to London I was held for 4 hours, I was strip searched, all my bags were searched, every single item was taken out, even all my underwear were put through the x-ray scanner.

The Israelis use these intense interrogation methods to try and put off Palestinians from visiting the West Bank. However this makes people even more determined to go back to Palestine. I resisted because I was in the right.

All Palestinians should try to visit Palestinian territories, to see for themselves the daily struggle that the people have to face such as checkpoints everywhere, the IDF dehumanizing people every day, how people live in constant fear. Even though I was only there for 1 week I felt that I as surrounded by a military machine. We all need to remember that “To exist is to resist”.

The author at the Herodium, you can see Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea.

The author at the Herodium, where you can see Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea.

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10 Responses

  1. bilal a
    November 7, 2013, 5:31 pm

    More confirmation that the NSA direct feed into Israel has immediate rewards in making all of your emails transparent and open, regardless of encryption and password.

    Most likely the technique is software independent, theyre using your IP address.

    Someone technical might suggest some solution for activists, perhaps a cloud based email accessed only through proxy?

  2. RoHa
    November 7, 2013, 8:45 pm

    Bravo on your success, and on having the mental strength to endure the five hour interrogation. Did you get a PA ID number assigned to you?

    (And no, Palestine isn’t your homeland. Britain is, depressing though that thought may be.)

    • eljay
      November 7, 2013, 9:56 pm

      >> (And no, Palestine isn’t your homeland … )

      It’s your turn to catch flack. I got mine in this thread. ;-)

    • Mayhem
      November 8, 2013, 1:56 am

      Spot on Roha.
      Ms Anonymous is not a Palestinian – it is a place where one of her parents has roots – that’s all. She calls Palestine her homeland because it is politically convenient. My father was Polish, but Poland is not my homeland. The Israeli authorities have every right to thoroughly check people like her as many turn out to be troublemakers – any government is entitled to take all necessary steps to screen out potential provocateurs. She speaks like one:

      the IDF dehumanizing people every day

      Maybe Ms Anonymous will give us some specific details next time she’s writing some agitprop for Mondoweiss.

      • RoHa
        November 8, 2013, 5:35 am

        “Ms Anonymous is not a Palestinian”

        And neither was Ms Karmalawy, and yet Israeli officials insisted she was, and gave her an ID number to boot. (To be tattooed on her forearm at some later date, I presume.)

        But then, Israelis insist that Israel is the homeland of all Jews, even if they were born in Australia and have never lived anywhere else, so there is a certain amount of consistency there.

      • justicewillprevail
        November 8, 2013, 6:39 am

        Yes, the truth is provocative. You are very confused about culture, identity and nationality, but that is hardly surprising when Israel has made a virtue out of confusing them for its political and ideological ends, which do result in the dehumanising and delegitimising of the non-Jewish population. The arrogance of people not from the region deciding who should be classified as able to live, travel or work in the region is nothing to do with ethnic or cultural identity, and everything to do with (a constructed) political identity, i.e. what is politically convenient for them.
        Well done to this person for taking the deliberate humiliation in a very UK phlegmatic way, and managing to make a fool of these Orwellian goons.

      • eljay
        November 8, 2013, 12:21 pm

        >> Ms Anonymous is not a Palestinian – it is a place where one of her parents has roots – that’s all. She calls Palestine her homeland because it is politically convenient. My father was Polish, but Poland is not my homeland.

        Good, then we agree that Israel is not the homeland of all Jews in the world. It is only the homeland of people born within the internationally-accepted geographic region that comprises Israel – which, of course, includes people expelled from that geographic region by supremacist Jews.

  3. RoHa
    November 8, 2013, 12:58 am

    And I notice an inconsistency here.

    An American citizen with a Palestinian mother tries to enter as part of a student diplomatic trip, gets told “You’ve got a Palestinian mother, so you can’t enter. Here’s your number.” Finally, after ten hours of struggle, permitted to enter West Bank only.

    A British citizen with a Palestinian mother tries to enter Israel to go to the West Bank, with the intention of taking part in a volunteer programme, gets interrogated for five hours, but no blanket “You’re Palestinian so you can’t enter”. Finally permitted to enter Israel and West Bank.

    The American girl seems less of a threat to Israel than the English girl, and yet the English girl gets what seems to be less (though by no means inconsiderable) hassling and wider permission.

    Do the border thugs make it up as they go along? I can’t believe an English accent is going to make that much difference.

    • tree
      November 8, 2013, 2:26 pm

      And I notice an inconsistency here.

      From the experience of some of my friends, supported by alan’s comment below, I would say most definitely yes, there is inconsistency. It appears to be a “feature, not a bug” of the Israeli apartheid system.

      However, there are some differences between the two cases, which you slightly mis-stated. The Brit girl has a Palestinian father, not mother, while the American girl has a Palestinian mother. The Brit’s father married a European, not an Arab, while the American’s mother married an Egyptian. (Although unmentioned, its possible there was a difference in religion between the two as well.)

      The American girl found out that, according to Israel, she was on the Palestinian population registry. The population registry was something that Israel instituted a couple of months after its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Anyone who was outside of those areas during that time, even if it was because of a trip abroad, schooling, or because they fled in fear of the Israelis, or were expelled, was excluded from that registry and was thus denied a Palestinian ID, making it near impossible to travel anywhere past a checkpoint in occupied Palestine. Children of Palestinian ID holders living abroad could be registered but in 1987, after the first intifada, they could only be registered if their mothers were Palestinian ID holders.

      Although unspoken in either account, my guess would be that the Brit girl’s family were victims of 1948 and did not live in the West Bank or Gaza at the time of the 1967 occupation, or they fled or were expelled during the first months, and thus the Brit girl was not considered a child of a Palestinian ID holder. The American girl’s mother, although perhaps a victim of 1948 as well, was a resident of the West Bank or Gaza at some point after 1967 and was a Palestinian ID holder then. Israel, of course, likes to make it particularly onerous and humiliating for those with Palestinian IDs to move about the country or to enter Israel.

      Of course, given all that, it is still an entirely arbitrary system, subject to the whims of officials, even lowly ones, at any time or place.

      Here’s a partial description of the system from B’Tselem:

      In the Oslo Accords, the power to administer the population registry of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Oslo Accords stipulated that the PA would maintain and manage the registry and that it would have authority to issue ID cards and visitor permits as well as to register children under 16 born abroad, provided one of their parents was registered as a resident of the Occupied Territories. However, it was also stipulated that the Palestinians must notify Israel of every change they make to the Population Registry and must receive Israeli approval to grant residency to spouses and children of Palestinian residents through the family reunification procedure. Israeli approval was also required for issuing visitor permits for the Occupied Territories.

      In 2000, Israel discontinued updating its copy of the Population Registry and no longer recognizes the changes made by the PA ever since. Israel currently allows the PA to register only births and deaths and to replace worn documents. As a result, neither the PA nor the Hamas government can issue ID cards to stateless residents nor approve applications for family reunification.

      Reasons for lack of residency status

      Absence from the Gaza Strip during the census

      In June 1967, Israel seized control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and declared them closed zones. In August and September of 1967, the Israeli military conducted a population census in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The authorities used this census as the basis for the Palestinian Population Registry. According to the 1967 census, the population of the Occupied Territories was 954,898. Palestinians who not present in the Occupied Territories at the time were not recorded in the census. This group included nearly 390,000 Palestinian refugees. Fifty-thousand of the refugees were from the Gaza Strip, some had fled the Occupied Territories during the war, and others were deported by Israel. Other Palestinians absent from the census were Palestinians who were abroad at the time for studies, business or any other purpose. All these individuals lost their status as residents of the Occupied Territories.

      Refugees who went from the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan and Egypt, received temporary travel papers from these countries and used them as a substitute for passports. These documents had to be renewed once every few years.

      Status revocation after the census

      According to figures provided to Israeli NGO HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual on 10 June 2012 by the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), from 1967 until the establishment of the PA in 1994, the military revoked the residency status of 108,878 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip for one (or both) of the reasons enumerated below:

      Remaining abroad for seven years or more for any purpose, including studies or work. This group includes thousands of Palestinians who moved to countries in the Gulf of Persia to work. After the First Gulf War, in 1990-1991, about 40,000 Palestinians born in the Occupied Territories fled Kuwait. When they sought to return home, many discovered that they had lost their residency in the Occupied Territories because they had lived abroad for more than seven years.

      Failing to appear for one of the population censuses held by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip in 1981 and 1988. According to the figures provided to HaMoked, 54,603 Palestinians were stricken from the Population Registry for absence from the 1981 census, and 7,249 Palestinians were similarly removed from the registry for absence from 1988 census. Some of these individuals did not report for the census because they were abroad when it was conducted. Others were in Gaza, but did not report for the census for various reasons: concerns arising from having been previously classified as “wanted”, the cost of the tariff for renewing ID cards, lack of awareness of the obligation to report for the census and renew their IDs. It is known that some residents of the Gaza Strip who were stricken from the population registry still live in Gaza, but have no official status.

      Refusal to register children

      Israel registers children born in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Palestinian Population Registry. Until the first intifada broke out, children who were not registered at birth could be registered without any special procedures up to age 16. Children born abroad could be registered up to the age of 16, provided one of their parents was a registered resident.

      In late 1987, after the first intifada broke out, the Civil Administration determined that children under the age of 16 who were born in the Occupied Territories would be registered only if their mother had residency status. It also determined that children born abroad would be registered only up to age five, regardless of their parents’ residency status.

      In 1995, the Interim Oslo Agreement (also known as Oslo 2) stipulated that the Palestinians could register children born abroad, provided that they were under age 16 and that one of their parents was a registered resident. Given these restrictions, there are children and adults living in the Gaza Strip who have no status: Some of them because they were born to parents who have no status. Others, because, although they were born to parents who are registered residents, they were born abroad and were not registered before the age of five. They remained without status despite returning to the Gaza Strip.

      more at link: link to btselem.org

      It’s very Orwellian.

  4. alan
    November 8, 2013, 6:16 am

    RoHa asks “Do the border thugs make it up as they go along?”

    In a word, yes. As at the ‘internal’ checkpoints, where sometimes a directive comes down to tighten the restrictions a bit (or a lot) or to loosen them, generally speaking the ‘border thugs’ get to take the piss, play nasty games, not bother because they’re concentrating on their text messaging, even behave humanely on occasion, all on their own whim. That was our experience (or what we witnessed from the vantage-point of our ‘international’ status) during three months living there and that’s been the daily experience of Palestinians trying to travel in, through or beyond the occupied territories for years on end. The patience and self-control of Palestinians could make an incredible fortune for the genius who comes up with a way of packaging it…

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