I am reading other’s stories about their refused entries into Palestine / Israel and so I believe it’s important that I add one more voice to the many that are out there. The more instances that are recorded, the more likely it is that maybe, some day the international community will take action. What follows is not a detailed account of what happened to me. I tried to do that the day after it happened, but it was too traumatizing. What follows is an account as detailed as I can make it.
On 16 May 2012 I intended to travel to Palestine and Israel from Amman, Jordan. I was visiting a dear friend in Amman and since I was so close to Palestine and Israel I wanted to go back. My trip to Palestine & Israel (henceforth called “The Land”) had 3 purposes: a) to connect with a school that I hoped I would be able to establish a professional collaborative relationship with that is located in the Galilee; b) to visit the holy sites of my Christian faith; c) to visit the village of Ein Karem, the ancestral homeland of my Palestinian-Jordanian friend, the village that both sides of her family fled from in 1948.
I intentionally decided to travel the fastest, but potentially most difficult, route to The Land – through the King Hussein Bridge into the West Bank and on to Jerusalem where I intended to pick up rental car. I also intentionally wore a hijab (head covering) and abaya (traditional Muslim dress) for my travel; the same dress code I had been following since my arrival in Jordan a week earlier. I wanted to see how the Israeli’s would react. I expected to go through extra security, but I did not expect what would follow.
As soon as I arrived at passport control at approximately 12.30pm on Wednesday the 16th of May 2012 my passport was taken from my control. I was first submitted to security questioning by two seemingly innocent and nice people. They asked me lots of questions and then would discuss among themselves my answers and come back and ask more. This was done rather informally and off to the side of the crowd going through the crossing. At one point I was asked if I had a flight out of Amman and I said yes and pulled up my phone to show them my travel plans. That was a mistake because I’d forgotten about the picture I had on the entry screen – an image of a woman in a hijab with a Palestinian flag on her face and the word “Hope” at the bottom. They saw this but lied and said they weren’t bothered by it.
After my questioning by them I was taken to another spot where I was asked to place my bags on a table and I was led to a room where I was asked to remove my abaya, hijab and shoes. Luckily underneath my abaya I simply had a pair of shorts and camisole so while it felt invasive, it wasn’t traumatically invasive to me as it was as if I was standing in my bathing suit. After this search I chose not to put my hijab back on as I was physically more comfortable without it. After this search I witnessed them searching every item in my bags, including reading a journal. I witnessed my belongings being tested for explosives several times and going through x-ray machines several times as well.
After this I was sure I would be allowed in. None of my belongings showed that I was a threat because there was no explosive materials to be found. I had plans to travel within the Israeli side of The Land. I texted friends around this time (2 hours in) stating that I was being search and I did not know what my fate (sent back to Jordan or being allowed in) would be.
It was after this search, after I was told I could put everything back in my bags, that things got incredibly scary for me.
I was introduced to a woman who seemed nice. She was petite, not thin, but slim, with long wavy red hair. I asked her if I was going to be allowed in or sent back to Jordan and she asked me what I preferred. I told her I was getting rather tired of the security searches and that I’d rather just go back to Jordan. Her kind response led me to saying something along the lines of “well, then, maybe I’d like to go for a couple of days to visit Jerusalem and then go back to Jordan.” That was the last bit of kindness I was offered by this woman. I was led into a hallway and she requested my phone and any simcards I had. She took them through a door and soon came out and asked to be let into my phone. I told her there was private information on there about an illness I have and that it was against US laws for her to have access to it. What was I thinking, that was stupid to say, because this wasn’t the US.
After sometime, and me taking my laptop out to work on some stats work, she came out and said something rather harsh to me in Arabic. I asked her what she said and she said I knew Arabic, to which I responded that I did NOT know Arabic, except for a few words. I don’t think she believed me, but she let it go. At this point she took my laptop, camera, e-book reader, guidebook, and journals. All my media. I was left again in the hallway. Below is a picture I took of myself in the hallway just before she came and took my computer.
Before she went away with my belongings I asked her what they were going to do with me – detain me, send me back to the USA or send me back to Jordan. She said she didn’t know what they were going to do with me. Needless to say I was rather confused at this treatment and started to break. I began praying, and crying, and pacing.
I don’t know how long after this that this woman’s assistant – a tall lanky woman with a hoop nose ring and black hair tied up rather lazily – asked me to come into the office. This is when I was interrogated. I am not going to go into great detail because it was rather traumatic for me. What follows is some detail about the questions I faced.
I was asked about everything in my life. I was told that I was Muslim and that my God was Allah. I ended up responding to this repeated question by eventually reciting the Lord’s Prayer. That stopped that. I was asked what organization I was with. I told them I wasn’t, that I was on my own. They didn’t believe me. This questioning ended when I gave them a couple of friends’ names who are activists and the name of an organization I worked with a long time ago. They asked me about who I knew in the International Solidarity Movement. I told them I was not affiliated at all with the ISM. They asked me how I knew about the ISM and I told them that being an activist I had heard about them. They continued to ask me about the ISM and names in the ISM – I finally gave them one – Rachel Corrie’s. They stopped that line of questioning. They asked about my illness, and who my boss was. They asked me to open my Facebook account. They told me they’d read my emails. They asked me about a video I had on my phone about Suicide Bombers – I told them it was there because I wanted to understand that mentality more and that, in fact, I think it had been produced by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. They asked me who Suheir Hammad was and why videos of her performing were on my phone. They asked me about my trip in 2008. I told them about an experience I had had visiting an Israeli settler who lost her son in an attack on a yeshiva nearly a year to the date after the shootings at Va Tech. I told them how I cried for this woman because she lost her son and I had been lucky not to loose anyone at Va Tech. I told them I wasn’t anti-Israeli, but that I was pro-peace. They told me that they were just a small problem of mine, that if I went back to Jordan I would have bigger problems because I’d visited Baqa’a refugee camp and the Jordanians didn’t like that. I believed them, I shouldn’t have.
They kept telling me that they knew everything and that I should just tell them what they wanted to know. I didn’t know what else to tell them. I understand now why innocent people lie and say they’ve committed crimes they haven’t. I nearly did. I nearly cracked and told them lies about things and people I didn’t know. I didn’t.
Eventually I was put back in the hall. They still had all my media. Every time someone came out of the door that my stuff was behind I asked about what was going to happen to me. They offered me water. I wouldn’t take it. I cried. I apologized for whatever it was that I did to offend their country. I cried more. I cried a lot. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I just cried.
Eventually I was given everything but my passport back. I started texting, calling and emailing people. I got in touch with my activist friends in Eugene. I knew if the situation got worse they’d know what to do. I emailed a friend in Logan. I emailed and called my friend in Amman. I texted my pastor. I called a friend in Logan. That was the best voice I had heard all day long. Thank you L. My Eugene friends said they were talking to each other and I felt even better. Thank you S and J. People told me to call the US Embassy. M’s blessed and extremely well thought father told me to call the embassy. I didn’t want to because I knew they wouldn’t care. After 3 people told me to, I did. By this time I was let out of the hallway and told to wait. By this time I was told I was going back to Jordan. The wait for my passport was still long, so I called the embassy. The first person was very empathetic and cared that I was scared, but he was just a night watch person. The person who was supposed to be able to help me simply said “this happens sometimes, and I’ll call the person on the Jordanian side to let them know you are coming back.” I was grateful Jordan was being called, but the lack of empathy by the official at the US Embassy was exactly what I expected.
The best thing that happened was when I got on the bus to go back to the Jordanian side of the border. The bus driver asked another rider (who had not been detained) why I was so sad. I told them and the 5 men on the bus were all outraged for me. They told me Jordan would let me back in. They told me that they’d be witnesses for me. I don’t know any of those men’s names, but they will all always have a special place in my heart. They cared about what happened. They were angry for me. They were all Palestinians too. They understood that I cared about what happened to them. Yes, I will forever be grateful to those strangers.
I finally got back to the Jordanian side of the border. I had to go through some extra questioning – why the Israeli’s didn’t let me in and of course I started crying again. The man in charge said “no problem, just a few minutes, no problem.” And it wasn’t. In that moment I fell in love with Jordan. I know Jordan is far from perfect, but they cared that I was upset. They were kind. The taxi driver back to Amman was incredibly kind and reduced his fare for me. M’s family, they waited for me and sat with me as I cried tears of fear, and gratitude that I was back in their fold. Little D, M’s oldest son, talked about wanting to hurt the people who did this to me. He wanted to protect me. 3 1/2 years and he wanted to protect me. In those moments I fell in love with M’s family, and my love for Jordan grew stronger.
The morning after my 8 hours with the Israeli’s I started talking about forgiveness. I told my friend M that I had to forgive the Israeli’s for what they’d done to me, for scaring me. I’m still not there yet, but I have to forgive them. I have to “forgive and yet not forget.” If I don’t forgive them then when does the cycle begin? If I don’t then the cycle of hatred just continues. That is the challenge of both pacifism and my faith. To forgive and yet not forget. To love in the face of anger. To understand and empathize in the face of empathy lacking. I have to break these cycles of disregard, anger and hatred. If it doesn’t begin with me, who does it begin with?
So, that’s my story. In a long nutshell. That’s being detained and terrified and having a happy ending for myself. I know that for many the ending isn’t so good. I know that many don’t get re-embraced by anyone, that they are stuck in jails indefinitely. I know that others get wrapped up in their anger and hate. I don’t begrudge anyone for their anger and hate. I understand it. I respect them for it. I love them for it. I pray that they find peace one day. That I find peace one day. That the Israeli’s find peace. That the Palestinians can go home and live side by side with their Israeli brothers and sisters in peace. I pray that peace will come to my holy land, The Land of the amazing M and her family. That they will proudly stand on their land again, hand in hand with their brothers and sisters from all over the world and that I will be there to witness it.