Two months ago, the Detroit writer Kristian Davis Bailey, who is active in the Black Lives Matter movement and Palestinian solidarity work, posted a notice on his Facebook page directed to friends who were worried about him saying that he had been detained for more than a day when he entered Palestine from Jordan. Today Bailey has come forward with a full account of his treatment last December, and it’s riveting. Published at Colorlines, the piece is titled, “Traveling While Black: I Was Racially Profiled and Locked Up in Israel.”
Calm, measured, and thoughtful, I urge you to read this account in its entirety for a glimpse of the Israeli security mentality, and how it reads people of color. Here are some excerpts.
Bailey was en route to speak at Birzeit University in the West Bank about the Black Lives Matter movement and its connections to Palestine when he was stopped at the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan by an Israeli official who said that his Ibuprofen was in fact a drug favored by ISIS militants (!).
I was subjected to a full strip search and placed under arrest. I entered Palestine in the backseat of a police van, handcuffed and shackled and flanked on either side by Israelis with U.S.-made military-grade assault rifles.
The police drove me 30 minutes from the Jordanian-Palestinian border to a station in Ma’ale Adumim—an Israeli settlement in the West Bank that is illegal under international law. Here, the police interrogated me before I could speak to the lawyer I had asked for, in contravention of Israeli law. They told me to sign multiple forms that were printed only in Hebrew, a language I cannot read or understand. The police then confiscated all of my electronics—phone, computer, camera, voice recorder and hard drive.
After briefly consulting with a public attorney, police took me to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. Despite repeated requests, I was not allowed to call my parents, the U.S. Embassy or any local contacts.
Nobody knew where I was.
Bailey was jailed overnight. The next day a judge demanded $1500 bail and Bailey’s passport, and ordered him to remain in the country for 10 days.
Police released me 27 hours after I first arrived on Palestinian soil. It was only at this moment that my family had any idea where I was.
He couldn’t go anywhere because he didn’t have his passport, and stayed with friends in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. But things got really crazy when he was brought in for a second interrogation
Two days after my release, I was summoned to the Ma’ale Adumim police station for a second interrogation.
During a two-hour period, the two police officers questioning me spent no more than 10 minutes asking about the Captagon I was allegedly smuggling. For the rest of the time they scrutinized photographs from my camera and phone. Based on these pictures they interrogated me about my prior travels in the region, the organizing I’d done in the U.S. and my attendance at a political rally for Rasmea Odeh headlined by Angela Davis.
The police attempted to create a narrative that I supported Al Qaeda and ISIS and they called me a liar when I stated, unequivocally, that I did not.
Bailey says it’s clear to him what happened. He was racially profiled, and that profiling is part of the structural racism of Israeli society.
Israeli border agents racially profiled me long before accusing me of drug smuggling. Halfway through the bus ride between the Jordanian and Israeli terminals, an Israeli soldier ordered me and a Muslim man from the U.K. traveling with his wife and children off our bus the moment it entered Israel-controlled territory. We were the only two questioned out of 20 people.
Bailey explains that he was traumatized by the experience, muzzled, and transformed. But he is not abandoning the work.
I was targeted at the intersection of Israel’s Zionism and anti-Blackness. I was targeted at the intersection of the global War on Drugs and the War on Terror. I was targeted for being a young Black male. The international marker of “Blackness as criminal” superseded the global mobility of a U.S. passport.
And while the racism I experienced didn’t surprise me, I was traumatized. I’ve spent much of the last two months withdrawn from my family and friends. I feel defeated in the sense that racist Israeli border authorities and police stole time and opportunities that I will never get back.
Whether intentionally or not, authorities stopped me from delivering messages about Black internationalism to the conference I was supposed to attend.
Here’s a promising and idealistic young American writer and look what happens to him when he’s coming to Israel to speak. Noam Chomsky got turned away at the same border on a similar type of mission and the Israelis later apologized. What will our government do for Bailey? Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks reached out to US embassy officials on Bailey’s behalf, he says, but it’s not clear that this intercession played any role in the case. The US government ought to protest this treatment. It won’t, of course, beyond some mild demurral; and so Kristian Davis Bailey’s case goes into the deep file of border harassments and rejections and deportations that is, at least, changing Israel’s image for the world.
Of course Bailey says Palestinians suffer far worse. But if you think this incident is trivial, you’re wrong. Saying he was “deeply ashamed” of his country, George Orwell once condemned Britain for the miserable way it treated Henry Miller, when that writer tried to enter the country.
A couple of bureaucrats had got an artist at their mercy, and the mixture of spite, cunning and stupidity with which they handled him made one wonder what is the use of all this talk about democracy, freedom of the press, and what not.
Bailey’s treatment was even worse; and the lesson is just as clear.
Thanks to Ofer Neiman.