Coming home

Posted on 29 July 2010

Leaving was uneventful, unsurprisingly. As the plane circled to make its descent to Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv came into view. I don’t know why but it looked different. So familiar, yet so unreal. I looked to the distance and thought of all my family and friends, and all other Palestinians, living across the West Bank. Of the difficulties they face each day, just to get to school, work or survive. Of my friend’s brother who was released from prison last week. Of those thousands who still remain incarcerated. And of Ameer Makhoul and Omar Said, Palestinian Israelis accused of espionage. And of the countless other stories of oppression and injustice that fill this country until it overflows.

Following the obligatory grilling at passport control, I was astonished not to receive the security paper which is usually slipped into my passport, singling me out for interrogation before I can pass to luggage reclaim. We were in, as simple as that, with hardly a question.

R made lots of friends on the plane. One family, in particular, adopted her for the duration. She watched DVDs and stuck stickers in books with the two young daughters, all the while being fed good kosher food by the parents. How she managed a five-and-a-half hour flight without once mentioning Palestine in her conversations with them, I do not know!

The service to Jerusalem was equally friendly: an experience I’ve never had before. A young Orthodox girl took a shine to R, which was reciprocated, so R spent the whole journey on this girl’s lap as a large family also wanted to get in, and there were not enough seats. She was almost last to be dropped, so R had firmly established herself and even spoken some Arabic with her. It turned out her grandmother had been born in Casablanca and had taught her a few Arabic words.

We were, as usual, last to be dropped. It must be the mention of Bethlehem checkpoint. The drivers don’t want to take the other passengers anywhere near. As we approached the driver said that he shouldn’t really take me there it’s not in Jerusalem and the service is only for drop-offs in Jerusalem. I asked him: “Do you take people to Har Homa?” (For a little background, see entry for December 1st.) “Yes, of course,” he replied, “it’s in Jerusalem.” I laughed and said it is in Beit Sahour. He didn’t look very amused.

As I went to pay he demanded more money as the large family had paid a half fare for two children and he expected me to make up the difference. We argued, I walked off to the checkpoint and left him shouting at us. The soldier at the checkpoint was a miserable, unpleasant child. I could imagine how he treats Palestinians crossing: the usual contempt and disregard for other humans.

As we were about to walk to the next part of the terminal (oh, how it has changed from the days with a few soldiers in the road that we’d just walk through and ignore) two soldiers came tearing past us, almost knocking R, waving their guns and screaming. Poor R, tired and hungry after such a long journey, it was well after 10pm by this time, just burst into tears and could not be consoled for about five minutes. We went out of the building, I was expecting some sort of scene, but there was none. A pathetic show for no reason other than to make some point?

We walked the last part to get out to where our car was waiting. I was reminded just how Palestinians are treated as animals. There is an unnecessarily long walk along a path that is entirely caged and divided into two. In some parts the wire has been kicked out and barbed wire has been used to seal the holes. It’s a prison, a cattle shed, a place to make sure Palestinians know exactly who is in control.

And foreigners? Well, most come through on organised tour buses or taxis and never see this part. They remain blissfully ignorant of the humiliation Palestinians face. Queuing from 5am in the hope to get through. Being shouted at by some spotty youth with a semi-automatic weapon and an arrogance bestowed upon him by not just his country, but by all who support Israel and its crimes.

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