Thursday, January 19, 2012

Freedom of movement

Yesterday there were air and ground strikes in Gaza. If you follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you probably already know this. If not, well, there it is.  Yesterday morning we heard planes going overheard (something I hadn't heard before or since). Perhaps they had something to do with the Gaza attacks...

Of course, the story from each side is different.  Relatives of those killed (2 were killed and 2 injured) say the men were setting bird traps.  Israelis say the men were planting a bomb and that in the Israeli attack they detonated the bomb. Sadly, there will probably be more stories like this to tell while I'm here.

Last night we watched a French movie called "Le Sel de la Mer," meaning "the salt of the sea." It was about an American woman with Palestinian roots coming to Israel/Palestine. I won't say more than that about the plot, but there was a horrible scene from when the woman arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.  She was grilled for hours and both her body and luggage were thoroughly searched. This reminded me of my own easy arrival, for which I am grateful.  I had heard stories of people being questioned for hours, so I was prepared for the worst. In the movie, the woman was told numerous times, "This is, of course, for your own security."  The experience of Palestinian friends seems to be more like what the character in the movie experienced and it makes me sick to think of how dehumanizing it can be.  My own story of an easy arrival is as follows:

I was prepped before coming, advised not to mention going to Palestine or to bring anything that might hint at Palestinian sympathies. This included an Arabic-English dictionary. Sadly, before reading my prep material, I asked my mom to bring me an Arabic-English dictionary when we met up in Spain. Being thorough, she bought and brought me 4 books...and because of the advice we had not to bring them, took them back with her to the U.S.

My process really began in Munich (I flew from Madrid to Munich to Tel Aviv). The terminal I went to is set apart from the "regular" terminals. Getting there involved a long walk outside. When I walked into the terminal, my boarding pass was checked. Then I walked a little further and my passport was checked. Then it was time for the extra security check. Let me mention here that whereas the rest of the Munich airport that I walked through was warm and welcoming, this terminal could best be described as cold and sterile. In the security room, my bags went through the X-ray machine and then were carried by a security person to a table for another check. Then I got the most thorough body check I've ever had. Once that was over, I was allowed to get my things and go to the waiting area. It was slightly more welcoming than the security check area had been, but not by much. When it was time to board, we got on a bus and travelled pretty far from the building to get to the plane.  Once on the plane things seemed pretty normal, until the last 1/2 hour or so when we were asked to remain seated "for security reasons."

When waiting in the passport control line in Ben Gurion, I watched people get questioned. I was there, it seemed, during the shift change. The line I was in was going slow (because of both the shift change and long questioning of people ahead of me), so I got into a shorter line. I'd be talking to a woman, which I thought might be a good thing. When it was my turn, I approached and gave her a big smile. She was having none of that and did not reciprocate.  Then she started with her series of questions, all asked with a note of scorn or condescension:

"Why did you come to Israel? How long do you want to stay? Why that long? Where are you going?  Where are you staying? How do you know them? Have you met them? How long will you be in Jerusalem? Where will you go after that? Do you have a return ticket? Where will you go after Israel?"

I got some skeptical looks as I was answering, but I think I got off easy.  As advised, I didn't mention Palestine, but otherwise I answered politely and truthfully.  The one question I was a little worried about was the one about the return ticket, because I know people have been sent home for answering "No" to that question.  My answer was no, but I explained that I've been traveling for awhile and had done the same in India and she seemed to accept that.  Whew!   She gave me a visa with the requested 3 months. Then I walked through customs without any sort of luggage search and I was done!  I was relieved that it was so easy compared to some of the nightmarish stories I've heard, including stories of people who were sent back home for the reason I mentioned above and others (admitting going to Palestine, for example).

Maybe the true test will come when I leave. Unfortunately, for some reason the process of leaving Israel tends to be a longer process in terms of questioning at the airport. I guess I don't need to worry about that quite yet...

My story is really one of great fortune.  I have it easy.  For the most part I can go where I want, both in the world and through Israeli and Palestinian lands.  Palestinians can't.  I've talked to people here in Nablus who want to go to Jerusalem.  It's  a bit over an hour from here (more if you have to use public transportation, because of the route it must take).  Palestinians have to apply for a permit to go to Jerusalem for the day, for one single day...and often they are denied the permit.  They have to have a "good reason," as judged by Israelis.  Apparently, things like a job interview or a meeting at an embassy don't qualify as good reasons. Sigh...

I don't know what the men were doing in Gaza, setting bird traps or planting a bomb.  I sincerely hope they were setting bird traps.  I do know that it seems like every time there's a conflict like what happened yesterday, the Palestinians tend to suffer greater loss than Israelis.  I also know that if my movement (physical, economic, educational, etc.) were as restricted as that of Palestinians, I might be tempted to do something drastic to change the situation.  Please know that I'm not saying I condone violence; I don't.  Thankfully, there are groups in Israel and Palestine who feel the same and are using non-violent methods to work for social change.  I'll be sure to tell you about them as I learn more.

When I started writing this, and even as I was finishing the above stories, I wasn't sure why I was connecting what happened in Gaza to the movie to my own arrival.  Maybe this is how they connect.  I am free to move. I also have a means to speak.  Others, particularly Palestinians, do not, or at least not without great risk.  I came here to teach, and with Project Hope that means teaching English.  However, I think the greater part of my teaching will happen when I use my freedom of movement to go places in Israel and Palestine and listen to stories.  The greater part of my teaching will happen when I use my voice to tell those stories faithfully, probably right here.  Those stories may be re-caps of the day's news or personal stories that you would otherwise never hear.  My teaching will also happen when I use my voice to tell my own story.  Sometimes it will serve to exemplify the life experience here and sometimes it will serve as a contrast to the life experience here. I only hope that I will find the words to say what most needs to be said. 


  1. Very moving . . . I remember my own trip to Israel and thinking what a shame that a government would spend so much of its resources to prevent the just result that will have to some about . . . I am glad you are there and look forward to read the truth you have to share with us

  2. This whole thing hurts me so. One thing I would like to know is the percentage of Israelis in favor of what Netanyhua is doing and why. Is it because they aren't given information that might lead them to change their minds? or because they are staunch Zionists? I don't know if you will get this info but it would be helpful to know it.
    May God bless your journey.
    Maryann Smith

  3. Maryann, thank you. I don't have answers, but if I do, I'll let you know. Michael, thank you. Sadly, our own government gives lots of support to Israel, rather than questioning what is going on here.