Saturday 10 January 2015

"Why aren't you volunteering in Africa?"

"How are you going to call your mother without a phone?"
"There is nothing in Abu Dis. Why are you going there?"
"Why are you volunteering in Abu Dis, when you could be volunteering in Africa? The children there are very disadvantaged!"

Having successfully navigated an interesting flight, I hoped my passage into Palestine would run smoothly. Instead we were welcomed off the flight by two security officials who after learning that we were going to Abu Dis for 3 months, became less than friendly. And so our first round of questioning began. After the second round, and being escorted to the toilet, we were taken to the naughty corner where we would spend the next 10 hours. Sitting across from us was John, a north American evangelical who had recently spent several weeks in a monastery and refugee camp in northern Iraq and simply wanted to look around Israel. Clearly he belonged in the naughty corner. Then 6 hours after arriving, two Germans backpackers arrived whose only sin was having long hair and a couple of contacts in their phones with Muslim sounding names. And finally, out of the foreigners in the naughty corner was another north American who didn't appear to have any incriminating qualities and so after arriving believed that all it would take was a gentle, rational word with the Israeli security and away he would go...5 hours later he was threatening to call the USA consulate. But maybe the most interesting person we met was an Israeli women who told us that she refused to take part in military service when she was asked back - "2 years service is surely enough" - and was therefore held up every time she wanted to leave Israel. We were the naughty bunch!

The main tactic used by the security was intimidation and fear. Apparently, they threatened to beat-up John and told him that we would never be a priest unless he told the truth. We faced slightly less aggressive tactics, but nonetheless, their intention was to make us feel scared and guilty. In all 4 interviews they asked the same questions, desperately hoping that we would change our story. And in all the interviews, but especially the last, every answer we gave was followed up by a further question, intended to make a previous answer look suspicious. But after several games or contract wist, blackjack, a sandwich and with a little help from the UK foreign office, we finally emerged out of Tel Aviv airport at 11.30pm with further confirmation of my existing views of the Israeli state.

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