It is the first time in the 6 hours out of 8 hours of my detainment that all three of my interrogators were in the room with me. I’m mentally drained from the endless bombardment of psychologically manipulative techniques they have inflicted upon me including humiliation, good cop/bad cop, and withholding information about how long I would be there and where my friends were. My personal journal, full of the most personal compositions, lies open on the desk, having been violated by the soldiers reading through it and laughing to each other about my personal life. The walls are covered with Israeli flags and multiple computer screens around the room showing an article I co-wrote for the Columbia Spectator, the Facebook pages for Columbia’s JVP and SJP chapters, and my profile on Canary Mission, a site used to shame activists for caring about Palestinian Human Rights, calling us everything from demonizers to terrorist sympathizers. I know my friend in the next room must be just as terrified, detained only for her Arab ethnicity and association with me.
One of the women looks at me with icy eyes and asks me, “So what exactly does JVP do?”
“We have speakers, Shabbat dinners, and Hanukkah parties. We provide a space for people to celebrate their Judaism without having to conform to the zionist politics of Hillel, etc.”
The women laughs, but a cold laugh that does not extend to her eyes.
“You are lying.” She bangs her fist on the table for emphasis.
“No group that agrees with BDS would celebrate Shabbat or have Hanukkah parties. Real Jewish people don’t support BDS.”
From the whole harrowing experience of crossing the Jordanian border into Jerusalem for the weekend, It is this line that stuck with me the most. Here I was, at the Israeli border, seeing the full extent of the problem that JVP is trying to address. By saying that anyone who criticizes Israel isn’t Jewish, Israel is trying to define Judaism as being inseparable from Zionism. Now I am not an expert and I would never try to define Judaism either. After all, I’m only part Jewish and I had a secular upbringing. But I do know that Judaism can survive and thrive completely separate from the idea of Israel. I have witnessed it in the places I have lived (San Francisco and New York City) and at Columbia, during our meetings where we discuss the Torah and family traditions, talk about things going on in the world, and plan exciting events and speakers. I have felt more connected to Judaism during those times than I ever did during my three months in Israel two years previously.
The fact that the Israeli border patrol agents were aware of and feeling threatened by the activities of JVP and SJP at Columbia, means that our call for justice for the Palestinians is not going unheard. And the fact that my being a human rights major is what prompted the questioning in the first place demonstrates that those border patrol agents believe that the study of human rights must include Palestine, therefore accepting that it is a human rights issue.
They are even inventing their own adversaries. Several times the interrogators asked me how many times I “met” with BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) and accused me of secretly helping “BDS” as though they were some kind of secret militant group and not a tactic used by institutions throughout history to pressure countries into stop inhuman policies (most notably with South African apartheid).
And then there are the tactics they were using: messing with me psychologically, trying to get me to give them names of the people in JVP and SJP, reading through every text or email I’ve ever sent to anyone with an Arabic name. It is McCarthyism and racism at its purest. And I’m sure I experienced nothing even close to how the Palestinians are treated every day.
After signing a piece of paper saying I would never enter the West Bank, would stay away from any political activity, and would leave the country after two days, I walked out of that room with the dismay at having experienced first hand the attempt to make Judaism and support for Israel mutually exclusive. But I also walked out with hope, because I felt like every flier we stapled up in Butler library after they had been ripped off was worth it. Across the world, in the interrogation rooms of the Allenby border and even in the taxis and Universities of Amman, people are talking about Columbia. Nothing can make me more excited to get back to work on the Human Rights crises that effects and implicates us all.