< Report One:  Our Long Arrival >

Today's Realities and Tomorrow's Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
August 14, 2013

Our Long Arrival
By Lauren Ballester

After two days of orientation and excited preparation, we finally boarded the plane last night at about 6 pm. We entered the plane with a sense of camaraderie. As Sydney put it, we are like siblings on a big long road trip.

Flight #1 to Frankfurt was uneventful and smooth. We had to go through another special security gate to board our next plane to Tel Aviv. Israel is the only country that has security personnel in every airport in the world. We all made it through OK, and were anxiously waiting to board when a man in a bullet-proof vest and combat boots came storming through, obviously upset about something. It turned out that one of the gates between the waiting area and the boarding area had not been properly locked, all 240 passengers had to go through the security line AGAIN. This delayed things about 40 minutes and was an exhausting process.

As I passed through the security line again, one of the Israeli personnel was looking at me suspiciously and began speaking to me in Arabic. When I returned his aggression with a confused look, he relaxed and said "ah, OK she is not Arab. Pass."

This of course upset me, but not as much as seeing the real implications of the unfettered racial profiling that Israeli institutions indulge in. Though to many my brown skin and "exotic" (barf) eyes classify me as a potential threat, once they hear my father's name (yes, the immigration officer did ask...) that cause for concern is immediately alleviated, a privilege that not everyone on our delegation has.

Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, three of our members were held for 2-3 extra hours for extra questioning.  They are all Palestinian (big shocker, I know). My heart was heavy as we pulled away from the airport, knowing they would have to wait to prove their very existence is not questionable, a burden most of us did not have to face at all, and a reminder of all the systems that are set up to protect certain groups, at the expense of the oppression of others.

This report is excerpted from the original post on Lauren’s blog.  For the full post, see http://icometothehomeoftheabsent.blogspot.com/2013/08/our-long-arrival.html



World At Large
By Amanda J.

I don’t want to write about what happened in the airport. I don’t want to let it waste any more of my time and energy. And I don’t want retelling this experience in detail to solidify those memories into crystals in my brain that will make me more anxious about traveling here in the future. But that’s precisely why I will write – because my airport experience is only one example of many policies that deter people of Palestinian ancestry from returning to this area, and we have to identify them before we can effectively challenge them.

After 18 hours of traveling, I exited the last plane and walked up to the passport control window.

I started: “Hey, how are you?”

Blank stare. “What is the purpose of your visit?
“I’m here on a tour to see the sites.”

Do you have family here?
“I have some.”

Where are they?
“The Bethlehem area.”

Oh…you’re going to have to go over there.” She pointed behind me to a place the group I’m traveling with accurately dubbed The Room.

“Oh, okay, thanks.” I turned and walked away, winking to Ihsan, another Arab delegate who had yet to have his passport checked.

Proud and curious, I walked into a room containing mostly Arab men. I plunked down near a man in hopes of making him not feel alone, and noticed that across from me was the only other person of Palestinian ancestry on my delegation. We smiled at each other and I shared my water with her.

Not long after, Ihsan joined us in The Room. We grinned with satisfaction, having predicted that the three of us would be the folks given extra trouble. Israel’s discriminatory policies are rarely surprising – if you are Palestinian (or ambiguously brown) you get a particular special treatment. And if you’re black or any color that’s not the shade of “skin-tone” pantyhose, you may get a few extra questions.

I was the second of us to get called.

What’s your father’s name?
I answered. I began to tap my foot in time with the questions I anticipated hearing. But my expectations where jarred by this gem:

Is your grandfather’s name Nazi?

Is your grandfather’s name Nazi?
“No. It’s Nasri. Nasri.”

After a series of questions about my genealogy, my e-mail addresses, and phone number, the man told me he’d hold onto my passport and I should go wait in The Room.

While I waited with the group leader and the two other Palestinian friends, the delegation’s lovely leader kept making gay jokes as we watched a bicycle race on the soundless TV.

Looking up in boredom, I saw an Israeli official two floors above us, peering down into our marble cage. I kept looking at him, expecting him to break his eye contact like you do when you’re caught staring at someone. But he didn’t. He kept staring, unashamed, unsympathetically, with the same emotionless face until he finished his food and walked away.

I wanted coffee but I didn’t want to buy it from the vending machine and give this airport and this discriminatory institution any more revenue. As I contemplated the (de)merits of my principles, a young lady called me.

She asked:
What is your father’s name?
Where was he born?
Who do you know here?
What is the purpose of your visit?
Are you alone?
Are you in the group alone?
What is your itinerary?
Why are you here alone?
Why are you staying past the two weeks of the tour?
No NGOs, no school, no volunteering?

Then she got aggravated.

I still don’t see a reason for you to be here this long. Why are you – alright wait. Let me tell you,” she said, leaning forward over the table. “Before I start asking you questions,” she began, as if she hadn’t yet asked me any questions, “I’m going to tell you where we are in case you don’t know where you are. We are in an official Israeli government office. This is the Israeli government right here. The Israeli government is OK with everything, there is nothing we are not OK with. The only thing we are not OK with is lying. So if you lie to us, even if it’s something that’s a little off, even if it’s something you accidentally say, you will be in huge trouble. So. Now,” she said, relaxing into her chair, her eyebrows still raised, “What are you planning to do on your visit?

The delegation leader walked in and passed me a piece of chocolate Ihsan bought. It was a little wave of warmth, kind of like how I imagine chocolate after a run-in with Dementors might feel. I was grateful for their emotional support, but I wondered if it would be easier to be bold and assertive if I were alone.

The next series of questions I had to answer included:
What did you study?
What school did you go to?
What political groups are you involved in?
What did you write about in your school newspaper? (This question was inspired by a slip-up I made while trying to avoid the question about political groups).
What did you write about?
What was the last thing you wrote about?
You wrote no articles about Israel?
Do you have political thoughts about this region?
Do you have an opinion about the politics?
Are you going to any demonstrations?
Where are you going?
Why are you staying longer if you’re going to see the sites with the group?
How did you get the money to travel?
What is your phone number?
Is this your only cell number?
What is your e-mail address?
Is this your only e-mail address?
Who are you visiting?
Who do you know here?
These are all the people you know here?
You know no one else?
What are their phone numbers?
What are all of their phone numbers?
Where do they live?
Where is your phone?

This last one inspired a fiasco. I couldn’t find it and explained why I didn’t plan to use it on my trip – I call and receive a bunch of texts, and don’t want to be charged by my lovely friends who forget I’m overseas. A male security guy intervened and said, “Let me tell you something. When you’re in Israel, you don’t get charged if you receive calls or texts. I swear. If you get charged, I give you permission to sue the Israeli government. For one who’s lost their phone, you don’t seem upset. Why aren’t you upset? You really don’t know where your phone is? Put your bag up here. Look, I will tell you what I’m doing, nothing private. Is there anything private here you don’t want me to see?"

(Uhh there’s medication and tampons and stuff).

Oh, you’re on meds? What meds are you taking?
(Excuse me?)

What medications are you taking?
(Um, I take vitamins, but you just asked me what I want to keep private).

Why aren’t you upset about your phone? You don’t seem upset.
(I don’t seem upset?!)

Why are you crying?

I was tearing up because these random people were telling me that despite half my family being from here and some still living here, I had no reason to be here. I was upset because their pointed questions about my activist work made me think – for the very first time – that I wasn’t going to get in. I was upset because I thought of all the other times I might want to come back here, and how I might have just fucked that up for myself by not evading certain questions as gracefully as I intended. But instead I said:

(I’m crying because I’m supposed to be on vacation and this is stressful!)

I found my phone. The man turned it on. I got charged for all the texts of well-wishes while I was on the plane.

“Who is this handsome man?”
I raised my eyebrows.

“Is he your boyfriend?”
(My father).

I waited for another long chunk of time in The Room, unsure of whether they would issue me a visa. I sat there feeling surprised that I had lost it, that I dropped some tears. I was pissed that I satisfied “security” with an emotional response, embarrassed at being a girl and crying in front of the lovely, supportive men that were waiting uncomplainingly for me, and angry at myself for failing to be half as level-headed and cool as my teenage self in this situation. I kept telling myself “Do not smile when they return your passport. Do not feel relief, and do not feel happy. Do not appreciate the system for ‘allowing’ you to be here.”

After returning most everyone else’s passports, including people that came well after me, the young lady again entered The Room. She called my name, said nothing, and handed me the passport.

This report is excerpted from the original post on Amanda’s blog.  For the full post, see http://pulsedigitalis.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/world-at-large/


Same, Same, Different – Airport Detention, Settlement and the Separation Wall
By Kristian Davis Bailey

Today we landed in Tel Aviv and began our delegation visit to learn about the occupation of Palestine. A week before we left, four of us joined a phone call with staff from Interfaith Peace-Builders to prepare for being profiled at the Tel Aviv airport. Three of the delegates were of Palestinian or Arab descent and I am African American. We spoke about how to minimize the risk of being turned away during additional questioning at the airport. 

Less than a week later, at our in person orientation in Washington DC, our group leaders reiterated that most of our group (who are mostly white and a mixture of college students and recent grads, along with elders, retired or long-working people) would get through Israeli customs with no problem - and that there were only 3 or 4 of us to worry about.

At our connection in Frankfurt, we saw how seriously these issues play out when, an hour before our flight, the entire gate was asked to exit and go back through security because they had found an open door in the gate. I didn’t take a picture of the sign for risk of drawing attention to myself, but our gate was specifically for passengers going to Tel Aviv, complete with employees from Israel. 

We landed in the Tel Aviv airport, waited for our entire group to gather together and then walked through the terminal to take a bathroom break. Almost immediately after stepping off the people mover, I was pulled aside by a plainclothes officer.

Can I see your passport please?

We then ran through the questions that our delegation staff prepared us to answer:
Is this your first time to Israel?
What are you doing here?
Where are you staying?
How long are you staying?
Do you know anyone in Israel?
Where do they live?
What are their names?

This whole process caught me off guard. I was wearing my Stanford t-shirt and a nice blazer with the hope that I wouldn’t look like someone to profile. I answered the questions honestly and the conversation came to an abrupt stop once I mentioned I am visiting a college roommate that lives in Haifa and has an Israeli name.

Thank you and have a good day,” the officer said with a smile.

This was the last of entry issues for me. But I smiled, shook my head and laughed to myself (a frequent reaction to experiences of racialized contexts) and rejoined the group. While I don’t go through things like this frequently, they have happened often enough that I learn to take it as par for the course. 

A few minutes later, we got to customs and one of our trip leaders, who speaks Hebrew, mentioned to the agents that he was leading us on a tour of sites around Israel. I got to the gate (had taken off my blazer at this point to make the Stanford name apparent), smiled at the woman and ten seconds later, without any questions, had a printed visa to enter Israel and was on my way.

One by one our delegation members trickled out to the baggage claim area—except for three.

The same three that were on my call — all Palestinian- or Arab-Americans — were brought into “the room” for additional questioning.

Those of us who had gotten through waited for 40 minutes. One of our delegates appeared an hour after the rest of us - she said her conversation abruptly changed when she noted that, while her father is Palestinian, her mother is Jewish and that she had Israeli Jewish family that she was visiting. We had no indication when the other two would be ready.

Our guide and delegation leaders that were with the detained delegates decided that the bus would take those of us who were free to move to the hotel in Jerusalem; our other peers and delegation leader would take a private taxi into the city later.

The drive from Ben Gurion Airport to East Jerusalem took us along a highway that dives in and out of the West Bank. . .

. . . Racial over/undertones of fear and parallels between home and abroad became even clearer when everyone who was questioned/detained at the airport debriefed our experiences.

Apparently at the very moment that I was pulled over at the airport, a white male from our group was also stopped for questioning. Independently of each other, this man and a black woman on our trip said they believe this happened to diffuse any allegations of racism or racial bias. The insidious thing about racism is that a lot of the violence I experience comes through trying to figure out the intentions (conscious or otherwise) behind how people interact with me. Any and every interaction has the potential to be racialized and so the whole power structure becomes solidified in my head. I am very curious about how this plays out for Palestinians.

What I need to stress, though, is that even though my experience was unpleasant, it was brief and really nothing compared to what my Palestinian friends had to deal with. Airport officials repeatedly told one delegate she was lying about having Jewish family, until they called one of her relatives in Israel and were essentially told to fuck off. Another was put under repeated interrogation as to why he emigrated to the US at the age of 17. This delegate successfully pushed back that if the US Border Control was okay with him becoming a citizen and traveling abroad, it’s none of Israel’s business. And all three delegates were repeatedly asked about their family trees—fathers’ names, uncles’ names, grandfathers’, etc. One official purposely mispronounced the name of one delegate’s relatives “Is his last name Nazi?” (It was something like Nasir).

The intention of interrogations like this is to push people’s buttons. Reflecting upon his experiences in “The Room,” one delegate said that the purpose is to intimidate Palestinians from coming home. Another delegate said that even though she’d experienced this last time she came to Israel, today’s events will make her second guess a future short-term trip to Palestine.

This is all even more disheartening in the context of the numerous Birthright groups we encountered at the airport, which fly hundreds of Jewish Americans to Israel each year to teach them about their “home.” (Any Jewish person can become a citizen of Israel; delegates like my friends, whose families actually live or lived in Palestine, whose borders are controlled by Israel, are often threatened with denial of entry into their own home. Birthright goes out of its way not to mention anything about the occupation of Palestine.)

It is incredibly (interesting is not the right word, but I’ll use it) to experience a new racial power dynamic. I’m used to the white/non-white dynamic in the US (and in some cases the black/non-black relation), but I am still figuring out how to position myself in relation to the European Jew/Jewish Arab/Palestinian Arab dynamics at play over here. Clearly I am not the focus of racial hostility here, but there are also dynamics of global white supremacy that play out. (And not just in Israel, but I was similarly profiled and searched even more intensely at the airport in Dubai, out of literally hundreds of passengers at 1 in the morning when I was there in March).

I can tell my days will be very long already - we didn’t even have any scheduled events today and I already have so much to debrief!

This report is excerpted from the original post on Kristian’s blog.  For the full post, see http://postcardsfrompalestine.com/post/58091916660/same-same-different-airport-detention-settlements


Is It All Israel?
By Ihsan Ghadieh

During orientation to this delegation, much emphasis was placed on the entry process to Israel, precisely on Passport Control.  IFPB staff members did a great job on preparing us in handling several scenarios that might arise, especially for delegates with a Palestinian background such as myself.  Racial profiling was the theme of the dialogue, with the knowledge that each of one of us decided to overstay the delegation to visit family and loved ones.  

Sure enough, delegates with Palestinian background were further interrogated, which consisted of a repetition of the same questions looking for inconsistencies in answers, but there was something different about this interrogation process, which was consistent among three different agents, spanning a period of four hours.  

What began as a normal process at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv quickly became a political statement.  The female officer who conducted the initial interview asked normal questions you would hear at any border crossing:
“What’s the purpose of your visit?”
“How long are you staying?”

The agent then asked if I had any relatives in Israel.  
I answered no, since I didn’t, leading to our first eye contact followed by her saying: “you were born in Jordan, you must have relatives in Israel”, again my answer was no.  

The next question was if I had any relatives in the West Bank.
I said yes, because I do.  Looking directly at my eyes with a raised tone she said: “That is Israel!”  

At this point I knew that I would get special accommodations and receive an invitation to “The Room”.  The room is simply a small waiting room, which individuals wait to be called in for one-on-one interview with border patrol agents.  And sure enough, as I walked in to the room I was welcomed by the presence of my fellow Palestinian delegates already waiting their turn.  

After an hour wait, an agent called my name. Starting the second interview, he asked the same exact questions the first agent did, including: Do you have relatives in Israel?

This time I said I have relatives in the West Bank; setting the stage for a new set of questions precisely about family members living in the Palestinian territories.  Special emphasis was placed on my father who lives in Jordan and the United States, my grandfather who passed away 17 years ago, and my uncle who resides in the West Bank village of Zeita.  The only thing this interview accomplished was a verification of my uncle’s identity, and then I was directed back to “The Room”.   

Two hours later a different agent called my name, and the third interview/interrogation begins.  He began questioning my immigration to the United States; he needed to understand why I immigrated.  After crossing that bridge without answering his questions, the agent began the routine of repetition.  

Every question the previous agents asked, he asked again.  The focus shifted towards my grandfather this time wanting to know where he lived.  I informed him of his death in 1996 and he lived in the West Bank prior to that, this answer did not seem to satisfy him leading him to repeat this question several times.  During either interviews, the agents never used the terms Palestinian territories, or the West Bank, they always referred to them as Israel.

The interviews were not dramatic or overly stressful as one might expect, they were simply tedious, repetitive and ignorant to an extent. There is always the possibility that their ignorance is intentional, as an effort to invoke emotional responses from Palestinians, but what’s more important is the fact that all three agents failed to recognize the West Bank as a Palestinian territory, and continued to reference it as Israel. 

This raises more important questions:
Will there be a two-state solution with such mindset?  
Would Palestinians be treated equally in a single state?
Or is it all Israel?



Arrival, Under Suspicion
By Micah Danney

We arrived in Tel Aviv after 17 or so hours of travel, happy to be in Israel. We left the gate and hit the bridge, where a guy about my age approached me with a friendly “Shalom” and outstretched hand. I brought my hand up to receive whatever welcome card I was being offered, but he asked for my passport instead, which I produced.

I noticed Kristian, one of two black members of our group, being stopped a few feet ahead as the rest continued down the bridge. We wondered later whether they selected my white self to offset their profiling of his dark skin. I stayed focused on my questioner.

Is this your first time in Israel?

What’s the reason for your trip?

Where are you going to visit?
Several cities and Holy sites with my group.

You’re traveling with an organized group?

OK. Have a nice trip.

I walked past Kristian and he followed a minute or so later. We’d been prepped for a different experience with Israeli security during orientation in DC: more questions, maybe some unexpected lines of questioning. Nothing crazy so far, but it’s always disconcerting being selected from a group for questioning. What about me attracted their attention? You can hardly help feeling targeted.

Our 23-person delegation regrouped near the bathrooms and proceeded to Foreign Passport Control, where we lined up in four adjacent rows, extending some distance longer than the other lines to the right. A burly security agent walked up behind us with some pep in his step.

There’s room in those lines over there. Why are you all right here? You don’t all have to stay in a group. Move over there please.

He sounded impatient and rude. I wondered why the rhetorical question if he knew we were trying to stick together as a group? Whatever – maybe I’m a little sensitive after hours of trying to contort myself for sleep on planes and being stopped just before. We all merged into shorter lines.

I got to my window and slid my passport toward the guy inside. Same questions as before, then:

Micah? What kind of name is that?
It’s from the Bible. My dad’s a pastor. (It’s Hebrew, but not the way I say it).

And where are you going during your trip?
Jerusalem, the Old City, Holy sites…

What are the Holy sites? Which ones?
I don’t really know; I’m with a group.

Your father’s a pastor and you don’t know? Didn’t you go to Sunday School?
Yeah, but…I don’t really know the geography and all that.

Where are you staying?
The Holy something Hotel, I can’t remember the name.

I called to Sydney, our group leader, for the name and he came over and started speaking in Hebrew with the guy. My passport slid back toward me and I was through.

I watched Nadya, whose background is Palestinian, being led to “the room,” where you sit and wait to be asked more questions. Most of our group passed through to baggage claim, where we regrouped and tallied that three had been detained in the room, along with Sydney, who chose to wait with them. Nadya, Amanda and Ihsan, my roommate. My roommate! Each of them is at least part Palestinian.

That process might take an hour or so, so we waited. Nadya appeared. She said they asked her for family names, up through grandparents. Any family in Israel or Palestine? They didn’t believe she was Jewish so she had to give them her mother’s cousin’s name, which they doubted was real. She had to give them his number. They called him – a Jewish Israeli citizen who’d served his time in the IDF – and he told the caller to stop wasting his time and piss off. They changed their tone, she said, and she was sent through.

With Amanda, Ihsan and Sydney still held up, we boarded our bus and headed for our hotel in Jerusalem. They’d follow in a cab later. We passed Israeli settlements being constructed on land seized from Palestinians. Large, sand-colored apartment buildings, totally nondescript. We remarked later how much they looked like prison complexes. Neo-penal, to use a term from a past journalism professor of mine.

Long day. Exhausted. Contemplating the reality-bending power of fear and suspicion, and their effects on people’s behavior. Was that security guy impatient at the passport line or just doing his job efficiently? I’m not sure. I wonder what they think they’re doing.

This report is excerpted from the original post on Micah’s blog.  For the full post, see http://micahdanney.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/israelpalestine-delegation-day-1-arrival-under-suspicion/



The Key to Understanding Israel and Palestine
By Sydney Levy

I cannot count the many times I have flown in and out of Ben Gurion Airport. Each time was more or less the same: wait in line, have your passport stamped, and have a nice day, never more than a few minutes. For years, I had enough privilege, as a Jew, not to consider that my experience is not shared by all.

Palestinian-Americans do not get afforded the same “have a nice day” treatment. Their American passport does not grant them any immunity from harassment, intimidation, and invasion of privacy.

Last year, my friend Sandra Tamari was denied entry to Israel. A Palestinian-American, vocal in her advocacy for Palestinian rights, was apparently too much for Israel to allow in at Ben Gurion Airport. The US government was not of much help.

And to make matters worse, my own Senator, Barbara Boxer, wants to codify this kind of discrimination against Palestinian-Americans into US law (take action here: www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=3663).

But even armed with all of this knowledge, I was not prepared for my experience at the airport this time around. You see my privilege had allowed me to pass through the airport time and again without noticing “the room.” This is where Palestinians are held for hours for further questioning, as well as a rainbow of others deemed unwelcome by the State of Israel.

I had an opportunity to visit “the room,” where my Palestinian friends had been ethnically profiled for further interrogations before granting them access to Israel. They’ve written extensively about their experiences.  These questions had nothing to do with security. They were meant to humiliate them, intimidate them, and discourage them for entering Israel.

My friend, Ihsan Ghadieh, was detained for hours at Ben Gurion because Israel could not see any reason why he’d want to enter the country - even as a tourist, even as part of an interfaith delegation.

Ihsan is related to one of the most prestigious Palestinian families in Jerusalem. His relatives have been custodians to the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem since the Twelfth Century.

Today, I saw the actual key myself. It is used every morning to open the church and every evening to close it, as has been the case for many generations.

I, on the other hand, have no physical connection to Jerusalem. Neither my parents nor my grandparents were born there. I certainly cannot claim a direct lineage of Jerusalem residency that can be continuously traced for over a thousand years.

And this is the key to understanding Israeli policies.

Ihsan has the key. Many Palestinians do. Israel has a lock, a lock that intends to keep as many Palestinians out as possible.

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Submitted reports may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.


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