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

Israel/Palestine
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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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