Palestinian forced to strip to underwear before attending briefing at Israeli Embassy in Washington DC

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On August 5th I journeyed through Washington DC to visit the Embassy of Israel. It was not the first instance I took the time to hear what Israel has to say on a wide range of issues. I made the visit as part of a program on U.S. foreign policy held by a non-profit organization, which is hosting nearly 40 participants from around the world this summer.

I looked forward to listening to Aaron Sagui, the Embassy Spokesman, especially because of rapid developments and the challenges ahead in the region.

Dorgham Abusalim
Dorgham Abusalim

Instead, I left feeling humiliated. After a long wait at the security gate that was not so different from the humiliation Palestinians experience at a check point, I was stripped down to my underwear – an exercise that is repulsive at worst and undiplomatic at best. For a split-second during the screening, the security staffer who began with patting me down thought he completed the process. However, another security staffer insisted he strips me down further, demonstrating procedure to his colleague by lifting his own shirt upward while pointing to his pants. I asked them if other participants are going through the same process, they said “yes.” When I asked my fellow participants, they were in disbelief. None of them were stripped down to their underwear. I was the only person whose ID is Palestinian.

Ironically, Mr. Sagui kicked off the briefing by asking about the participants’ backgrounds, pointing out that he understands a Palestinian “cousin” is in the audience, referring to the Abrahamic ties between the descendants of Ismail and Isaac.

During the Q&A part of the briefing, I recounted the experience to Mr. Sagui, asking whether cousins treat each other in such manner? His answer, lamented by a half-hearted apology, baffled me. He began by saying that it happened twice before at the Embassy, affecting a French guest in one instance. He then went on a recycled diatribe of past experiences with “Palestinian terrorists,” effectively suggesting that I, in his view, am a terrorist.

Once I left the Embassy a friend of mine shared with me his thoughts about what happened. He recalled that one of the security staff who was standing in the room simply giggled at my question.

Nothing is funny about this experience.

An Embassy is a gateway into a country. An institution driven by a simple purpose: the diplomatic and critical exchange of ideas, culture, and political understandings so that sound relations may be established between people.

The briefing ended with a question about hope regarding Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Mr. Sagui rightly stressed that we must have hope. However, we must also recognize that every time Israel acts in such repulsive manner a piece of hope is stripped away.

Ten years of international education taught me a simple truth: reconciliation is key to success, both in and outside the classroom. From Palestine, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the United States, to Switzerland, no matter the landscape or the context,  whether personal, social, or professional, finding common ground rests on the ability to reconcile. Invariably, it’s a process that must begin with critical self-reflection. Only when Israel begins to assess its own flaws in a free-spirited fashion can we trust that hope will lead us to reconciliation and peace. We cannot afford to hope just for the sake of hope. Until then, I’m compelled not to visit the Embassy anymore. In the meantime, I hope that it becomes a place where an honest and genuine commitment to peace guides Israel’s relations.

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I think you should go to other Iz. embassy events. But you should smuggle in a little Bibi statue. A cavity search is a terrible thing to waste.

OMG, Dorgham Abusalim. I simply cannot fathom this, though it really should not surprise me. To be singled out, strip- searched, and then lied to is worse than repulsive and undiplomatic. I think it is criminal and should be reported to the Secretary of State. It is reprehensible and should… Read more »

this is completely outrageous. i would urge everyone to let our state department know how you feel about this.

DORGHAM, If it were me, I would have refused and then made a cellphone call to my US program’s director, explaining that I was having problems at security. They don’t have the authority to arrest you in the US. Let the US police strip search you if they need to.… Read more »

I might be totally off base here but it seems that all these humiliations, large and small that Israel routinely subjects people to are part of their own insecurities. At the back of their minds is the thought, never openly articulated, that unless they engage in constant oppression their victims… Read more »