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Entering Israel – and the apparent need to legitimise its security

June 14, 2011

Over the coming months I will attempt to portray as best I can the experiences I have here staying in the Occupied Territories and will try to provide a platform in which the events I witness and come to better understand by living here can be discussed. Firstly however I would like to discuss the difficulties that face Internationals like me and others who attempt to travel/ work in the Palestinian territories.

My Journey to Nablus began last Thursday morning and after reading all travel advice regarding passing through Israeli border security (as in order to travel to the Palestinian Territories, you have no choice but to do so) and seeking advice from those who had made similar journeys as me , I had a story prepared that I intended to make my way from Ben Gurion airport to Tel Aviv where I would start my travels around Israel and that the only time I planned on entering the Palestinian territories was to visit the holy sites of Bethlehem. Now this is a story that must have been told a thousand times, genuinely and of course falsely by those such as myself whose true purpose of entering Israel was not to actually spend time there but to make their way to The West Bank. However on this occasion as my passport had already been stamped with a Syrian and Lebanese stamp which indicated that I had spent a week in Syria two years ago and around 3 days in Lebanon, my story raised suspicion and I was kept at the border security office for around two hours. During this time I was interrogated, called a liar (which was technically true), circled by a Police man in an attempt (a successful one) to intimidate me and led to believe that my e-mails and facebook account had been read, as I was forced to write down my e-mail address. I was moved from the waiting area to the ‘interview’ room several times and after it was suggested that my e-mails had been read and that he ‘knew’ I was lying and that if I did not tell him ‘the truth…’ he would ‘have me arrested, deported…’ and would ‘make life very difficult…’ for me upon my return to the UK, I decided to come clean and inform him that I planned on travelling to the occupied territories where I would begin a post as an English teacher. After being sent back to the waiting room and around 25 minutes passing, my passport was returned to me with an Israeli stamp inside it and was allowed to continue with my journey.

Now I am sure, reading this that it may seem strange for me to have not told the truth in the first place and that it could be said that if I had just done so that I would have been allowed passage through, without having to go through the intimidating and threatening ordeal that I did. However on speaking to other internationals living and working here within the occupied territories, it is clear that this is not the case, the lying is often encouraged by the Israeli officials as it often makes life easier for them as it is not actually illegal in any sense to travel to the occupied territories. But this is not always the case as people who have passed through the border security on several occasions have been known to report being kept for over 6 hours, regardless of the reasons they provide for travelling within the region. Whilst at times, simply stating and also making up a story can gain you quick and easy, maybe ‘normal’ passage though the border controls, it can also see you being kept, interrogated, your bags searched and even your person strip searched and kept for varying times. I have spoken to those who regardless of the fact that they inform the border agency officers of their true intensions and have done so before and have even been recognised by the same officer who dealt with them last time who had kept them for a unnecessary amount of time and had subjected them to the intimidating scenarios already spoken of, which had resulted in them allowing the person to eventually pass through, had again subjected them to the same ritual.  If this is the case then what are these measures for?

Now it may seem that the issue of an international being inconvenienced in some way at a border within this region, is an issue that pales in significance to the suffering of a people who have lived under occupation now for over 40 years, and it really does. However it can still be seen as an important issue which arguably plays a role in painting the overall picture of how the Israeli state works. Whilst I was kept for 2 hours, around another 30 people were kept in the same position as me, with their passports taken from them and being subjected to interrogation. The other people there consisted of Internationals, Israelis and Palestinians. However not one person was detained whilst I was there, with all being handed back their passports and allowed to pass through into Israel. Except for inconveniencing these people and the others who I have already spoken of, it would seem as though little was achieved by this farcical situation. With a huge security presence at the airport, it felt as though this process was nothing more than an attempt to legitimise its existence. From the outside, the country which goes to great lengths to control the media outlets of the West, in order to portray it as a country under siege, this experience and the experience portrayed to me by others did little to allay my view of Israel being a paranoid nation, a paranoia that conveniently legitimises its spending of large amounts of its budget (a budget heavily subsidised by the US) on ‘security’ and developing some of the biggest security industries in the world.

This experience (a minor experience in the grand scheme of things), was quickly forgotten when I was greeted on the other side of the security by the driver whom the place I am to work for sent for me. A very warm and welcoming man, he was soon to give me a crash course in the situation within the region and was quick to tell me that ‘now you have a small experience of what it is to be Palestinian’. On our journey to Nablus he pointed out to me the great fortresses that are the illegal Israeli settlements and the checkpoints that need to be past through in order to leave the West Bank and explained to me the meaning of the different colours of car licence plates (those that are Yellow are Israeli plates and can drive anywhere throughout the region but cannot carry a Palestinian within them whilst in Israel, and those that are White are Palestinian, which can only travel within the Palestinian territories of the West Bank), he also explained to me the differing ID cards that Palestinians must carry in order to travel through the region and that those who manage to acquire a permit which allows them access to work within Israel only permits them to be in Israel between certain times. The realisation of where I was and the situation that the people who lived here face on a daily basis quickly came home to me and in the coming months I will endeavour to portray my experiences here as best I can.


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