Saturday 10 January 2015

Did we land in Ben Gurion airport or hell?

Welcome to Israel. Minimum waiting time for being interrogated: ten hours.

Since arriving to Palestine four days ago, I find myself confronted with a mixture of feelings and contrasting experiences – from being held for hours in the airport and questioned repeatedly by eight different security agents asking the same questions over and over again to the kindness and hospitality of the people in Abu Dis, it already feels like I’m adapting quickly to a place I will soon call home.

As I write from the Dar Assadaqa community centre, I recall my experience in the Ben Gurion airport. As soon as I landed, two friendly officers asked for my passport and the reason of my visit. “Volunteering in East Jerusalem” I said with a smiling face.
“Where in East Jerusalem?” asked the officer.
“Abu Dis”.

Once the officers heard the name of the town and that I will be staying there for three months, hell broke loose. My passport, letter and contract of volunteering from CADFA have been taken and I was put together with the other CADFA volunteers and dangerous people in a detainment room. I was second to be called in the interrogation room where two women asked for my contact details, my father’s & grandfather’s name, where I’m going, why and for how long. Normal demands I thought to myself but given the countless stories of harassment I have heard about before the trip, I had my doubts this would be all and I wasn’t wrong. What followed next was unexpected – they wanted to know my university degree and when the lady officer heard I studied international relations she assumed I studied together with another volunteer who has the same degree and angrily interrogated me if we participated together in pro Palestine demonstrations organised by the university.
“Why did you choose to volunteer in Palestine and not Africa?”
“What do you know about the conflict?”
“Did CADFA teach you what to answer to security question?”
“Did CADFA tell you not to visit Jewish sites?“
“Do you have any contacts in Palestine?”
“Did you know boys in Abu Dis throw rocks at the Israeli military?”

I have to admit my voice was shaking at the beginning of the first interrogation however after hours of exhaustion I had moments when I couldn’t remember my phone number or my grandfather’s name but I couldn’t care less. The security officers clearly made cynical use of their power to instigate fear and intimidation. My emails, text messages, whatsapp messages, Facebook and contact list where checked for any dangerous links to Palestinians. Meanwhile, I asked if I could charge my phone or connect to the wireless to let my family know I was stuck there but I only received hostile reactions.

One thing is for sure. The officer said there’s nothing on the other side of the apartheid wall - but she was wrong. There are warm, kind people with an intense desire to tell us more about the daily life struggles of living under occupation. 

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