Monday, July 30, 2007

Telling the Truth at Ben Gurion

by Eileen Fleming

[Tel Aviv, Israel , July 28, 2007 ] I left the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem: Occupied Territory at 8 AM and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport fifty minutes later.

I only hire Palestinian drivers whenever I travel in Israel Palestine, and for the first time in all my five journeys, my Palestinian driver did not have to leave his car and go into the interrogation building. Security asked me politely for my passport and to get out of the car and identify my luggage in the trunk. I did as I was told and then security returned my passport with a round blue sticker and the number 78 on the back cover. The sticker marks one as being with a Palestinian and triggers a more in-depth interrogation inside the terminal.

I told Samir, my driver, "I am not removing the sticker this time. I am livid to the point of over boil at all I have seen and heard these past two weeks and I will not shut up until I get it all out. I will be writing for the next week about what I have learned and I am going to tell airport security exactly where I have been and that I have been reporting it all on the web. I am flaming mad at my government and pathetic mainstream media who do not tell the truth about what is really going down in the Holy Land, which is all in pieces; Bantustans! Bush and Olmerts concept of a contiguous Palestinian state means connecting the unconnected enclaves with underground tunnels while the illegal settlers; colonists; squatters get to use the well paved apartheid roads and my tax dollars support this occupation and injustice! I am totally pissed off and whipped and worn out with misery and grief at all I have seen, heard and it has gone to my gut; my heart in other words, and I will not be silent; I cannot shut up."

Samir just shrugged.

The very first Ben Gurion employee, who questioned me, was the very same young trainee I had encountered in November 2006, but I didn't tell her that I remembered her. Eight months ago she was hesitant and apologetic in her questioning, but she had now mastered the routine, and there was no joking around. She was very concerned if anyone had given me anything that could be a bomb.

I told her nobody gave me anything except coffee, tea, water, soda, cookies, fruit, hummus and bobaganouh during my visits in Palestinian homes in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and in the Dasheish, Aida and Jenin refugee camps.

"How many times have you been to Israel?"

"This is my fifth trip."

"Do you have family here?"

"Not blood family, but friends who have become like family."

"What was the purpose for your trip?"

"I am an Internet reporter and I came to investigate what my government and the USA media doesn't talk about."

"So, have all your trips here been for business?"

"You could say that."

She then led me to the first x-ray machine, and after my bags passed through, she returned to me accompanied by another young woman and a young man in a suit.

He asked me; "How many times have you been to Israel?"

"This was my fifth trip and I spent all my time in occupied territory."

"Where have you been?"

" East Jerusalem, Bethlehem , Ramallah and Jenin. I am an Internet reporter and you can read all about my journey on my website," I replied as I handed him my card.

He looked at it carefully, smiled and replied, "Very nice, very interesting."

"Thanks. I hope you will read what I have to share."

"Oh, I will. May I keep your card?"

"Of course, it is yours and tell your friends to read me too."

"Thank you for your cooperation. There was a problem with your bags, they must go back through the x-ray machine."

"OK," I said and returned once again to where I had just been.

After the bags came back out, the young man in the suit informed me, "Your bags need to be further examined."

He led me to the next phase, a large rectangular space of tables with x-ray equipment in the middle and delivered me to station number 9, where three females were waiting for me. They asked me to open up all my bags and with plastic gloves on their hands; they swabbed and examined every surface and every article. My sunscreen lotion and Pink IPOD shuffle caused them some concern, but what really got them nervous was a stain on an old suitcase and they wanted to know, "How long had it been there?"

I had no clue as I borrowed the bag from my daughter and hadn't even noticed it until they brought it up. It took 35 minutes for them to go through all my stuff, and all my careful packing was for naught. They were pleasant enough, but nobody responded to me when I said, "All of this happens just because I have been to occupied Palestine? Oh well, every experience is writing material."

After they were satisfied I had no explosives in my luggage, one of them offered to help me repack, but I declined. As soon as I was zipped back up, one of them told me without making any eye contact, "Now I have to check you for metal."

"OK, sure, but I think you mean a strip search?"

She didn't respond and led me to the examining room where my shoes, belt, and jewelry came off and she told me to sit down and she would be right back. After my shoes and belt passed the x-ray inspection, she returned to me and told me to extend my legs so she could pat them down. Then she instructed me to stand up and hold my arms out so she could wand me all over. The wand kept alarming in the vicinity of the metal buttons and rivets on my jeans. She said, "Have a seat; I must get my supervisor."

She returned with a young woman, who also never made eye contact with me and commanded, "You need to drop your pants around your knees."

I complied and after she wanded me all over she turned and left, and I called to her back, "Did I pass the inspection? Can I get dressed?"

She never responded but my first 'companion' said "Yes."

I was then led back to my luggage and another female; one who did make eye contact and smiled a lot. "Come with me," she said and I did.

She led me to the front of a line of about twenty travelers' at the Continental check in desk. Two American women had been first in line and behind them was an angry looking man who yelled at my 'companion' in Hebrew. She responded without a smile in Hebrew back to him, and then smiled when I said to the Americans, "I got to cut in front of you, because I am a security risk. I have been to occupied territory and have been writing what I witnessed and learned on the World Wide Web." I handed them my card and added, "I hope you will read all about it and tell your friends."

After receiving my boarding pass, my 'companion' led me on, and as soon as we were out of ear shot from the line of travelers she remarked, "Israelis can be so very rude."

I responded, "So, all this personal attention is just because I told the truth?"

She smiled again but made no comment until we passed through the employees security check and arrived at Passport control. "Sorry to have put you through all this, but it's just our job."

"I know how that is for I have been doing mine in occupied territory and this morning's experience has provided me with my next article."

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