My name is Rachel. I am a Jew. I don’t practice, but my grandmothers are Jewish and I identify as a Jew, so that means I am a Jew.
My name is Rachel. I study Religious and Middle Eastern Studies. My research focuses on the Holocaust and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I have studied in Morocco and the Czech Republic. I know a little bit of Arabic and I hope I can learn more soon.
My name is Rachel. I support human rights. I work at a non-profit that strives to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity.
My name is Rachel and in the summer of 2019 I was interrogated for an hour and a half when trying to get on a flight from New Jersey to Tel Aviv. Over ten members of Israeli security working for the Israeli airline, El Al, took turns questioning me. My life, my friendships, my studies, and my family were picked apart. They mired on my Arab and Arab-American friends, the relationships I made in Morocco, and my research. I was partially strip searched and my entire body was poked and prodded with hands and scanners. Every single one of my belongings was confiscated and examined behind closed doors. I was yelled at by a large group of men to give them my computer password. They refused to explain why they needed it and I had classified work documents on my desktop. Scared and overwhelmed after 90 minutes of questioning, I decided not to comply. I was then off-boarded from the plane.
When I went back to the airport for a rebooking the next day, I was pulled from the security line within minutes. I was searched and questioned extensively again and had my luggage and passport labeled a level 6 out of 6 security threat for further examination and interrogation upon my arrival in Israel. Knowing that there was a good chance I could be turned around in Israel after enduring hours of questioning yet again, I decided not to try for a third time to get on a flight with an airline that had already made it clear they wanted nothing to do with me.
I don’t know why I was treated like this. When I asked, they kept saying “security.”
They were thought policing. They were racially profiling my friends. They were afraid of the fact that I wasn’t afraid of the Middle East and the people who call it home.
For the purposes of my thesis research, I had wanted to go to both Israel and Palestine despite the significant issues I take with the actions of the Israeli government. I wanted to engage first-hand in the issues I spend every day studying. I was traveling with a research group that I trusted and respected, so I decided to put aside some of my political perspectives to accept a grant I was so lucky to have the opportunity to receive.
However, by essentially denying me entry into the country, Israel asked me to boycott. And if they want me to, I will.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is non-violent. I am non-violent. And Israel, you can be non-violent too.
I want to tell my story not because I want to get into Israel. In fact, I know that after I tell it, I probably never will.
I want to tell my story because if this is what the Israeli government is doing to a 21-year-old American Jew doing research, what do you think they are doing to someone whose skin isn’t as white as mine?
This was a challenging experience because interrogation is painful and draining and because I was barred from an opportunity I was looking forward to, but what about the people who are barred from ever seeing their home or family again? What about the people that live every day in fear of destruction, demolition, and death in the open-air prison we call the Gaza Strip?
So today, I ask the Israeli government to reassess their priorities and security practices. I ask them to think critically about what the word “threat” means and what/whom constitutes as one. I don’t. My Arab and Arab-American friends don’t. A Palestinian 18-year-old visiting her grandparents doesn’t. In fact almost all Palestinians don’t. Just as almost all Americans, almost all French, German, Mexicans, Brazilians, Iranians, and Moroccans don’t.
I also ask the US government to rethink their unequivocal support for Israel in the wake of the crimes against humanity they are committing and the unethical practices they are engaging in. I ask the US to think critically about what democracy means to our country and if the practices of Israel really deserve the label of “the gold standard for democracy in the Middle East” that is so often attributed to them.
Finally, I call on the young people of America and of the world to be the change. We are the future and we have the power to change the systems that do so many worse things than block an innocent American Jew from getting on a flight to Israel. Support Palestine, support BDS, and support human rights because none of us should ever be considered a threat again for what we look like, what our name is, who our friends are, or where we have been.
My name is Rachel. But if my name was Ruhee, would you be reading this story? If my name were Ruhee, would I even be able to tell it?
I am sharing my story because we live in a world where not everyone can. I am sharing my story because something needs to change.
But, more importantly, for the people who will never see their homes and families again.
In Palestine. And across the world.