An American friend of mine recently traveled from Amman to Jenin. She was going to participate in the annual olive harvest that occurs across countries in the region at this time of year. In Palestine, olive-picking – painstaking labor conducted in the sometimes fierce autumn sun – is something that people do together. It requires coordination among villagers and in places like Jenin extended family and friends freely offer their help, which is freely accepted. The harvest has always strengthened bonds among people. But in Palestine, it has come to represent something more.
Travelers from Jordan know that occupation regime controls all entry into the country. Upon reaching the King Hussein crossing my friend was pulled aside by the Israelis on the Palestinian side of the terminal.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?”
My friend opted for the truth.
“I’m visiting a friend in Jenin.”
The questioning proceeded in the usual way before:
“Where are you staying?”
“With his family,” she replied.
That led to deeper, more intrusive questions. The kinds of things that normal people in normal countries aren’t required to share about themselves. Finally, in an aggressive tone the Israeli interrogator asked her whether she knew that the man she was visiting in Jenin was a “Muslim.”
My friend – who struggled to work through the implications of the question – was undeterred. Yes, she knew that the family she was visiting with was a Muslim one.
The Israeli looked at her. She stared, then asked earnestly, “Are you afraid?”