The road is long…

Posted on 28 September 2014

For most people, a holiday involves day trips, seeing the sites and enjoying time with family. But if you’re Palestinian, and you’re in your homeland—you know, the place you were born, your parents were born and generations of your family were born—then forget it.

We’d planned to go to Jerusalem. Partly as J had a meeting with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom; partly as he’d not stepped foot in Jerusalem for more than twenty years (despite it being a couple of miles north of home); and partly that’s what we wanted to do, as a family.

Advice was forthcoming from all sources. Go through 300; don’t go through 300 (main checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem). Go on the bus; don’t go on the bus. Go through the tunnel, don’t go through the tunnel (the checkpoint on route 60). Go in a car; don’t go in a car. And so on, you get the picture.

For various reasons, J decided on the bus. We got on and had a short wait while it filled up, not entirely, but many seats were taken. Nearly all were Palestinians, but there were two differences between them and J. Firstly, although born in Palestine and with the dubious privilege of holding a huwiyeh (Israeli issued Palestinian ID) he did not have a ‘ts’reha’ (Israeli issued permit that allows the holder entry to Israel which costs quite a bit – the occupation is very profitable). Secondly, he does have a British passport which apparently becomes but a mirage when in the hands of Israelis.

When the bus gets to the checkpoint on route 60, it is pulled over—always. We knew this. All the Palestinians are forced to get off the bus and queue outside, whatever the weather, while their ts’reha is checked. Us lucky foreign passport holders get to remain in relative comfort while the soldiers get on and check our papers.

The female soldier glanced at J’s handful of UK passports and walked past. But we were unlucky. The checkpoint is manned 24 hours a day, but the level of security varies and there is no schedule that determines which forces are present at any time, it’s the luck of the draw. So then a border policeman also got on.

He asked J for our passports in his flawless English. J handed him the three passports. He said: “Where are your visas?” The visa one now gets on entry to Israel is a business card sized paper which has your photo and passport details on. I replied that we had been told to keep them very safe as we’d need them on departure, so I’d left them in our hotel room. He wasn’t fooled.

J didn’t have a visa because he doesn’t need one. His UK passport in not recognised, his UK citizenship is not recognised. He has to be admitted into the West Bank (via the Allenby crossing from Jordan) because he was born here. And being a perfectly-spoken English border policeman he was also a perfectly-able to read English border policeman who could see where Jamal was born.

This was the fairly brief conversation that followed
Perfectly-spoken English border policeman: “You cannot go through here.”

J: “Why not?”

PSEBP: “You were born in Bethlehem.”

J: “And I have a UK passport.”

PSEBP: “So you cannot go through here.”

J: “Why are you discriminating against me?”

PSEBP: “You cannot go through here.”

He then had a few soldiers come on the bus, just to show us who’s in charge, and took J off the bus. Throughout this short encounter, R became increasingly agitated. She had been sitting with J to start with so as he got up, she came to sit with me. But she was clearly distressed. He waved and blew kisses to us through the window and the bus pulled off. Rahel burst into tears.

This was the hardest part of the whole episode. We knew what might happen and were prepared for it. For a child though, she couldn’t possibly understand the many layers of history, hypocrisy, oppression and dehumanisation that led to this small incident. Most adults can’t.

A few of the other passengers spoke to me, expressing their disgust and concern. I assured them that we (J and I) were very well aware of the possibility of this happening, and my only concern was reassuring our daughter. After a while she stopped crying, but she made me keep calling J to see where he was.

He finally answered about an hour later. He was still being questioned and needed to know his mobile number! We spoke again about an hour after that when he’d got home. R insisted he stay there and not go anywhere. (We’d previously discussed him trying a different way should he have been prevented on the first occasion.) Obviously he promised to stay at home.

A couple of hours later we got home too. J told us what happened after we’d continued our journey and he was prevented from coming with us. He was taken into the office for questioning. He kept asking them why were they discriminating against him, why did they separate him from his family in such a way, why were they refusing to acknowledge his passport? They seemed rather uncomfortable as he kept pressing the points.

One of them demanded he speak in Arabic; he refused and spoke only English. Another gave him cigarettes and insisted he take a seat. They ended up talking about the character in Slumdog Millionaire, because of the lead character’s name.

He was then told he could go, but he was also issued with an interrogation order to attend the Mossad at Etzion. (For those who accused J of making up the entire episode on the basis that Palestinians are interrogated by Shabak, yes they are, but when one of these Palestinians also has a foreign passport, then the Mossad will have an interest.) As he left he said: “I shan’t thank you, but, should you ever be in London, please know that I’d never treat you the way that you treat me.”

J left Palestine two days before his interrogation was due.

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