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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.

Dorgham Abusalim

Dorgham Abusalim recently graduated with a Master in International Affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland. You can follow him on Twitter @dabusalim.

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38 Responses

  1. CigarGod on August 7, 2015, 10:56 am

    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.

  2. just on August 7, 2015, 11:10 am

    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 in no way be allowed in the nation’s capital, Israeli flag notwithstanding. Yes, we all know Israeli horror happens at BG and Allenby and other checkpoints, but this is DC. And you “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.”

    You were treated abominably because you are Palestinian.

    I’m sorry, but it is past time for the US to examine our ‘diplomatic’ relationship with Israel and instruct their embassies in TA and Jordan to act as protectors of US citizens, and to demand that others be treated with respect.

    I’m reminded of what is written inside a US passport:

    ‘The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.’

    And I am reminded of diplomatic protocol. Israel is incapable of behaving in a civilized manner.

    Congratulations on your Masters, good luck in your endeavors, and thank you for sharing this abomination.

    • W.Jones on August 7, 2015, 1:08 pm

      I think it is criminal and should be reported to the Secretary of State. It is reprehensible and should in no way be allowed in the nation’s capital, Israeli flag notwithstanding.

      I agree with all you said.

    • DoubleStandard on August 8, 2015, 2:05 pm

      It’s not criminal. You aren’t obligated to enter the embassy. What they did was absurd and wrong, but let’s keep perspective.

      • Mooser on August 9, 2015, 12:24 am

        “It’s not criminal.”

        I’m not sure a Zionist, and especially not one as addled as DS, is where I would go for advice on what’s legal or not.

  3. annie on August 7, 2015, 12:01 pm

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

    • joemowrey on August 7, 2015, 4:13 pm

      I don’t know, Annie. If we bring this outrage to the attention of our State Department they might make the strip search of all “Arabs” a new directive.

  4. W.Jones on August 7, 2015, 1:21 pm


    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. Also in the US you can say that you don’t agree to a search and it can be considered a violation of the fourth amendment against “unreasonable searches and seizures”.

    If they do the search anyway, I think that you could get yourself into more trouble if you resist, but then later you can sue them, because
    “the Bill of Rights applies to everyone, even illegal immigrants. So an immigrant, legal or illegal, prosecuted under the criminal code has the right to due process, a speedy and public trial, and other rights protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.”

    Israelis make these kinds of things a national scandal when it happens to them:

    However, I am not in your shoes and I know that you have to go back to living under Israeli rule. Sorry, brother. (not cousin, even though I am not Jewish or Middle Eastern).

    • Xpat on August 8, 2015, 10:58 am

      @ W. Jones – Israel officially justified the questioning of Turkish nationals because of their stated intention of “visiting Al-Aqsah mosque.” Where are the liberal Zionists who routinely praise Israel for its religious tolerance of non-Jewish religions?

      • W.Jones on August 8, 2015, 1:16 pm


        Hophmi and others are around. And you can imagine the excuse- It’s worse in Somalia or some other place, so why are you picking on them? Works for almost anything.

  5. a blah chick on August 7, 2015, 2:25 pm

    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 will rise up and turn the tables on them. Better to keep beating the untermensch emotionally and physically so that they never raise their heads and challenge authority. These attitudes are not evidence of a healthy society.

  6. a blah chick on August 7, 2015, 2:33 pm

    Didn’t Hillary Clinton have a press conference in Jerusalem some years back where the Palestinian reporters had to agree to be strip searched which they reused?

    • just on August 7, 2015, 2:54 pm

      Good memory, abc:

      From 2012:

      “Palestinian journalists balk at strip search

      Al Quds newspaper reporters trying to cover Clinton news conference say Israeli, foreign journalists not asked to drop pants

      A Palestinian journalist said he and three colleagues trying to cover US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting in Jerusalem with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad walked away after being asked to drop their pants in an Israeli security check.

      The Palestinian journalists were invited to Monday’s event by the US consulate, which sent a staffer to guide them through security. Mohammed Abu Khdeir of the Al Quds newspaper, which is published in east Jerusalem, said Israeli and foreign journalists were not asked to strip.

      Foreign journalists have complained in the past about being strip-searched at events with top Israeli politicians…

      An Israeli government official said Israel is trying to provide the best possible security for Clinton and that similar procedures are used at Western airports and in secure facilities in Western capitals.

      The head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS), Abdel Nasser Najjar, lauded the reporters for refusing to strip and backed their decision to boycott the event.

      In light of the incident, the PJS has decided to hold a demonstration on Tuesday outside the American consulate’s offices in Ramallah.

      Last year an Al-Jazeera cameraman was ordered to drop his pants during a security check before an event in which President Shimon Peres participated.

      In another incident last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s guards ordered a pregnant Arab newswoman to remove her bra and told other reporters to strip to their underwear.”,7340,L-4256429,00.html

      Haven’t heard evidence of this being true in the US/DC until I read Dorgham Abusalim’s terrible story:

      “An Israeli government official said Israel is trying to provide the best possible security for Clinton and that similar procedures are used at Western airports and in secure facilities in Western capitals.”

      • michelle on August 7, 2015, 3:55 pm

        all people should start demanding to be strip searched
        if it’s needed for one it should be needed for all
        after afew long days/delays maybe the message will get through
        one might also expect the ‘speaker’ to be strip searched after all one can never be too careful
        G-d Bless

  7. michelle on August 7, 2015, 2:37 pm

    one wonders is this also done to females
    seems like Israel would do the same to all non Jewish people
    if they thought they could get away with it
    molesters tend to avoid conflict
    why isn’t there any true correction when Israel abuses others
    it’s no wonder Israel is so off center
    if a parent raised a child in this manner the child would be unhappy
    the world should be a better relation to Israel
    Israel needs to be expected/made to respect the personal and public boundary
    of every & all otherwise Israel (and those that interact with Israel) will never be/feel secure and/or safe
    G-d Bless

  8. karendevito on August 7, 2015, 3:55 pm

    Acknowledgement is the first step toward reconciliation. The state of Israel’s official self-examination always turns up the same results: the tiny, brave country surrounded by enemies (some of whom live within its walls.) It is always the victim, always acting out of righteousness, regretting it has to use such force. Because, as all colonizers claim, that is the only thing “they” understand.
    To address the question of hope at the end of such a session is mere window dressing. When exceptionalism and paranoia are so institutionalised, there is not much hope for reconciliation, let alone even exchange of ideas.
    Exchange of ideas has never encouraged an oppressor to change its ways.

  9. Qualtrough on August 8, 2015, 1:03 am

    I have long had a simple rule that has always worked for me. If I think that someone needs to be stripped searched before they can be in my presence I just don’t invite them into my home or office.

  10. NickJOCW on August 8, 2015, 9:54 am

    A homoerotic obsession with Palestinian male underwear? Were it me I might have removed them altogether and let him have them. Poor man.

  11. Vera Gottlieb on August 8, 2015, 10:18 am

    The terrorists are the israelis.

  12. Monica70x7 on August 8, 2015, 10:21 am

    This is appalling. I will try to get the Washington Post to do something with this (probably an exercise in futility). Also, perhaps, since I am living in the DC area, I could help to organize a protest outside the Isr. Embassy. DOES ANYONE HAVE SOME THOUGHTS TO OFFER TO ME REGARDING WHAT CAN BE DONE? This should never happen again.

    • NickJOCW on August 8, 2015, 3:02 pm

      What can be done? Gather as large a group as you can, parade in front of the embassy in underwear. Invite press and cameras. You’ll go viral and they will be unlikely to try such a ridiculous racist thing again.

      • Monica70x7 on August 8, 2015, 3:26 pm

        Thanks, NickJOCW! Although I am chuckling at your suggestion, I will take it seriously and propose it to my Palestine solidarity group. Actually, since we are modest dressers, perhaps we could wear an extra set of underwear on the OUTSIDE of our clothes. In my case, perhaps black shirt and slacks, with white underwear on the outside. Should be very visible.

    • annie on August 8, 2015, 3:58 pm

      hmm, what you can do. go by Busboys and Poets and see if there’s any affiliate groups to do some kind of event. get in touch w/jvp-c (tell shelly annie sent you — @JVPDCMetro) and end the occupation, both headquartered in DC, code pink also has a headquarter there and they rock at awesome actions. other groups like AMP. or students against israeli apartheid at george mason has some awesome activists.

      good luck!

      • Monica70x7 on August 8, 2015, 6:36 pm

        Thanks, Annie! I’ll be at Busboys and Poets on Tuesday anyway, and can check around. I know Shelly (JVP) and one of the Code Pink members, as well as a couple of activist students (SJP and SAIA). I’m on the Leadership Council of Sabeel DC Metro. Will see if I can mobilize some folks. Much appreciation for your response.

    • TonyRiley on August 11, 2015, 5:29 am

      Because no Palestinian could be a terrorist.

      • eGuard on August 11, 2015, 7:28 am

        Because no Palestinian could be a terrorist — Unlike the 39 others.

      • eljay on August 11, 2015, 7:57 am

        || TonyRiley: Because no Palestinian could be a terrorist. ||

        Palestinians can be terrorists. Jews have proven that they can be terrorists, too. You’re absolutely right to demand that Jews (like Palestinians) be strip-searched at random and simply for being Jewish (or Palestinian).

      • diasp0ra on August 11, 2015, 11:01 am

        Are you seriously defending racial/ethnic profiling?

        Here is a “funny” story from a friend of mine who crossed the Allenby bridge recently. There was an interfaith field trip for school children. The kids couldn’t have been older than 8 years old. I’m not sure which country they came from, or what school they represented. But as my friend waited for her “random” security check to finish (she’s Arab obviously), she observed the trip.

        What a coincidence that all the brown and black kids got chosen for “random” checks while their white classmates were whisked through without an issue.

        These are children from the same school, the same country, the same trip.

        Racial profiling is the MO of Israel in everything it does. It has nothing to do with legitimate security fears or checks, its about racial superiority. When we say Israel is a colonial state through and through, this is also what we mean.

  13. diasp0ra on August 8, 2015, 12:43 pm

    I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but why is anybody here shocked or surprised?

    Why would any Palestinian need to go to the Israeli embassy to hear the Israeli narrative/side of things when it can be heard parroted on every single mainstream media outlet?

    Did the author perhaps think that his American citizenship would protect him? If he did then he hasn’t been paying attention to anything. I just can’t fathom why you’d walk into the lions den like that. To make a point?

    There is a reason why any Palestinian activist/academic worth their salt boycotts official Israeli institutions. This is only part of the reason. The whole visit seems ill conceived, and to be frank, a bit naive on the part of the author to expect anything other than this treatment. Maybe I’m jaded and have grown too accustomed to this.

    Forgive me if I sound harsh, but I hope you learned your lesson from this event and indeed do stay away from Israeli institutions. No matter what you may think, you’re still the same demographic threat to them.

    Reconciliation can’t happen under occupation. You can’t use a band-aid to heal a decapitation. If Israelis were ever interested in genuine reconciliation then they wouldn’t be building new settlements and protecting settler terrorists (and the list goes on) to this very second. But it’s a good line to use on people who might not be informed on what Israel does.

    To quote Carl von Clausewitz: “The aggressor is always peace-loving (as Bonaparte always claimed to be); he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.”

    Edit: After re-reading my response it is indeed unnecessarily harsh. I apologize for that. I’m glad you’re safe. But you could have saved yourself so much trouble by adhering to the wisdom of the activists/academics before you.

  14. Accentitude on August 9, 2015, 4:32 am

    I could expect this to happen in Israel but I can’t rationalize it happening in Washington D.C. The last time I checked, Washington D.C. was the capital of the United States of America and it is governed by American law, not Israeli law. As a Palestinian-American you are afforded some rights that our brothers in Palestine do not have. You can raise your voice, you can question these actions, and you can refuse to cooperate and you are well within your right to do so. I would consider speaking with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s legal department. Particularly, you might want to speak with Abed Ayoub, ADC’s lawyer and Legal/Policy Director. I believe he is also a Palestinian. He might be able to give you some advice. The Israelis need to understand they cannot treat American citizens like this. If I were in your situation, I would not go away quietly. I would turn this into a PR fiasco for them but that’s just me.

    • CigarGod on August 9, 2015, 9:53 am

      The more I think about this incident…the more I think the writer should have refused…and wrtten about it.

    • Mooser on August 11, 2015, 6:40 pm

      “The last time I checked, Washington D.C. was the capital of the United States of America and it is governed by American law, not Israeli law.”

      If I am not mistaken, aren’t embassies usually granted “extra-territoriality”? That is, the embassy is considered to be the territory of the country in the embassy. I think that is a diplomatic convention or courtesy.
      Of course, what the country does with that exemption from the legal obligations of the host state is up to the country. We can see what Israel uses it for.

  15. just on August 9, 2015, 11:40 am

    Highly recommended:

    “KPFA 94.1-FM Berkeley

    Deported for Going Home: A Palestinian-American Citizen’s Ordeal at Ben Gurion Airport

    Palestinian-American citizen, George Khoury wanted to visit the place he grew up – but upon his arrival to Ben Gurion Airport he wound up harassed, detained, and deported. We’ll look at why even an American passport isn’t good enough to get some people into Palestine.


    Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

    Philip Weiss, co-Editor-in-Chief of the online news magazine, Mondoweiss

    Report produced and narrated by Up Front producer, Linda Khoury”

  16. jortine on August 11, 2015, 11:31 am

    This is consistent with Israeli daily behavior in the west bank towards Palestinians basicly humiliate, dehumanize and demoralize. he is lucky though not to have been dosed with gasoline or may be he is too old, 20 years or more, for this kind of treatment and reserved for 20 months and less. This typical Israeli arrogance seems boosts the ego of the “chosen”. For the Palestinians non of the above works it only serves to remind them not to ever forget that they are proud Palestinians.

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