Creating people's geographies
I am very pleased that Reclaiming Space will be joined by Dr H., a physician working in Palestine. Dr H will be writing regularly with direct dispatches and we are fortunate to be learning of the situation on the ground through her original pieces. The good doctor prefers to be known simply as Dr H., or Doctora as she is often referred to. Here is our first installment.
I am here in the Holy Land!! But getting through security was a traumatic experience at the airport… all my worries came true with the exception of being denied entry. I had coaching before I came to prepare me for what to expect…last time I was here I guess I was lucky and managed to whirl through security with few questions.
So I guess this email is mainly directed to people who are coming here soon so that they can be prepared for what to expect….
Ben Gurion airport is truly a spectacular airport… very beautiful made of stone and marble floors, high ceilings and airy, with a glass-rounded enclosure in the middle surrounding a small waterfall / feature, down below is a food court where people departing are waiting for their flights. It’s organized very well with arrivals and departures kept totally separate, although it does not feel like that.
So as I arrived at security, there were people from all across the world coming to Israel and to the holy land. I have to admit I was anxious, although I don’t know why… perhaps the worry about being denied entry.
Question 1 What religion are you? – Muslim (is this question not discriminatory?)
Question 2 – Where is your father from? – Iraq
Statement 3 – please can you stand to the side?
As she signaled through the walkie-talkie for someone to pick me up. I asked if there was a problem – “No, no problem”, she smiled at me. Israeli security have this false reassurance of being alarmingly polite yet despite this they are able to instill fear in you for nothing you have done. I was escorted to a waiting area which was enclosed to the side and as I stepped in, it was obvious that the type of people being held back were of one race and one religion – Egyptians, Palestinians, American Palestinians, Israeli Arabs aka Palestinians, people with families and young children, women wearing headscarves and me. Perhaps this is not true all the time. I guess my Chinese blood was not on my side on this occasion.
I was left waiting for an hour until I was called in – and so the questions began: “where are you from? where is your father from? Have you been to Israel before? Why are you coming again? Where does your father live? What does he do? What do you do? Do you have your work ID? Where will you be visiting?”
This woman was relatively ok as I answered the questions.. why not Israel – it’s a beautiful country, people made me feel so welcome last time.. like you are doing today (well.. that’s what I thought but didn’t have the guts to say it)
After half an hour or so – I was let back outside.. and I had to wait again for another hour until I was called to be questioned by the second person.. “What’s your email address? What’s your personal email address? What’s your phone number? Do your parents know you are here? Can we phone them? Do you know of any organizations? Why are you here? .. Do you know any Palestinians? Do you know any Palestinians here? Do you know any Israelis? Do you know any Jews? Why do you know Jews?!” And all the above questions again … “Is it OK if we call your mother?”
I looked at her and I said quite calmly, “I am not a terrorist you know, and I am not here to kill anyone.” She looked up from her computer where she was fiercely typing away and she seemed somewhat surprised and responded, “No, no, of course not”.
After this session which lasted another 30 to 45 minutes I was then left again to wait but for more than 3 hours. I had resigned myself to being denied entry. People were coming and going, coming and going… I had waited more than 3 hours and no sign of anything. To me it was obvious if I had a name like Emma Jane Smith and if I was blonde and blue eyed with a British passport I would not have been treated like that. I had decided that this is the last time that I was coming here and I guess that’s what they want. It’s strange – I am fortunate to be so well traveled, I have been to perhaps 100 airports and I have never been treated so badly – and why? …because I am half Arab? Because I have an Arabic name? because I am Muslim?
Finally after landing at 2 pm, I was handed my passport at 6:30pm, but all was not over yet! More questioning about a holiday to Morocco – why did you go to Morocco? … to sunbathe … who did you go with? Do you know any Moroccans? My bag had been damaged, a padlock broken, make up gone. My bag was x-rayed and searched and the girl who was doing so seemed to have some compassion … she was surprised that it was now 8pm and my flight landed at 2 – she offered me some coffee/ tea and I guess this small sign of humanity reduced me to tears. And I asked her why I had been treated like that. She responded “You know Israelis are crazy about their security, they are so scared”… and I asked her, “Scared of a doctor?”… She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and did not know what to say.
It’s total humiliation … for what reason I do not know.