Greetings from Palestine!
I arrived last night after the long and semi-eventful journey from St. Louis to Tel Aviv.
I bonded with a Palestinian man and his family over our worry about making our flight to Tel Aviv on my flight from St. Louis to Newark after a delay. I also ran with a Jewish family from our gate, down a flight of stairs, onto a bus to another terminal, and to the end of that terminal to get to our gate. I learned that I was out of shape, Newark needs to open more electronic walk-ways, and that I should’ve stuck with the Palestinian family who ended up arriving on a little cart while we were waiting in line.
On my flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, I sat next to a rabbi and a Christian woman who was visiting the Holy Land (and who is also a Cards fan). I thought about how this would be a great set up to a joke, “So a Muslim, a Rabbi, and a Christian sit next to each other on a plane…”
The rabbi told me he would be attending the Israeli Presidential Conference with Shimon Peres like he thought I would be impressed (I wasn’t). After learning I was Palestinian, he asked me where I was visiting. “The West Bank,” I answered. After he outright asked me what I called that territory, I said, ”Palestine” because I’m Palestinian and we can only hold our tongues for so long. But to my surprise, he replied with “I hope. I hope.” Still, I wondered what the heck he calls the West Bank.
He asked me if I ever talked with people of other faiths and backgrounds. I knew he was really asking if I ever befriended someone of the Jewish faith. I spoke glowingly of my friends who came from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and atheist backgrounds. (Go PSC!)
The rabbi, who was involved in some J-Street action, told me he hoped a two-state solution could happen and asked me if I was hopeful. I really, really wanted to talk about my actual beliefs, about how I personally did not think a two-state solution was possible right now. But I was on a plane headed for Tel Aviv, worried about my upcoming interrogation for daring to arrive Palestinian. So instead I told him I was hopeful because I had no other choice. He told me in so many words that he thought what was happening to the Palestinians was wrong and that he thought there should be justice, but he did not know what that would look like at the end and that scared him. I told him I was more worried about the current situation and how the road looked from here. I said things were dire and unsustainable, and a lack of justice scared me more. Our fears are obviously very different.
Once I arrived in Tel Aviv and was predictably pointed to the room I refer to as “the rooms for Palestinians and a few foreigners,” I couldn’t help but think back to the rabbi. I wished I had told him, “Why don’t we go stamp our visas together, you and I?” Instead, I entered the room and immediately asked another Palestinian how long he had been waiting. I was disappointed with the answer, 45 minutes. But after the Palestinian family I had journeyed with from St. Louis complained about waiting for 30 minutes, two girls spoke up and said they had been waiting for 5 hours. I was really worried at that point. I guess I should’ve known they had been waiting a long time. They had a look of worry plastered on their faces. Apparently, the Israelis took their passports and told them to wait. The girls then saw everyone come and go for the next 5 hours without being seen by anyone themselves. When they were finally told they were free to go, the girls just hugged each other and cried. I wanted to tell them, “Stop crying in here. Get out and go!” but I let them have their moment. I noticed the security woman who came in to call in another person for interrogation looked at them curiously. I wondered if she felt any guilt.
Everything’s a mind game with these Israelis. I looked up at the TV and noticed the screen was facing all of us in the room and a TV could be seen from anyone approaching the visa counters, but no one who got to bypass the room would be able to see what was playing on the screen. It was an Israeli version of a Richard Simmons work-out. “Yes, this is torture,” I thought.
I was called in for my first line of questions after half an hour. I was asked the usual, “What’s you father’s name? What’s your father’s father’s name? What is the purpose of your visit here?” I was asked to write down my mobile phone number and email address. What do they do with this information? I wouldn’t even know whom to ask.
After another half hour, I was called into another room and asked questions like how old my grandfather is, where I would be staying, when my parents entered the country, what my siblings’ names are…things they already know most of the answers to. I was asked if I was married or had kids. I was asked if I traveled with anyone that day and why I had traveled alone. I was told to look at a paper printed in Hebrew that had my phone number and email address on it and told to verify that information was correct. All I could think throughout this questioning was, “Just let me through.”
I returned to the waiting room and looked out at all the people waiting in the visa lines who didn’t even notice us. I wondered if this is what it felt like in the 1950’s. Did whites just look past the “colored” entrances to movie theaters? Did they just pretend it didn’t happen or actually believe that it had to be done? Do people look past things that are ugly and right in front of their faces because it’s convenient, or because it’s too ugly to believe? Whatever they do to look past us, they did a wonderful job making me feel invisible in that room.
The man returned and handed me my passport without saying a word. I had to ask him if I was free to go as he walked away. Maybe I should wear a sign that says, “Not Invisible”.
I hope to write to you after I join the Health and Human Rights Delegation