I arrive at Ben Gurion Airport with sadness about leaving Israel. To be honest this experience has been intense and very interesting in all aspects, but especially in the personal one. I feel like I will come back to this place for sure. And I will do it not only for academic reasons, but now also for personal ones, as I leave here really good friends I would love to see again.
When I arive at the security checking I find a very nice guy standing there who asks for my passport. I give him my passport and he asks me politely to wait for a minute. He comes back and tells me to follow him for a 15/20-minute interview in which he will ask some questions. I really do not know what to say and what not to say and decide I will be cautelous with the information I give them, but will try not to lie about anything. After all, I am not guilty of anything. I came to Israel out of academic interest in the peace initiatives present here and the possibilities they have to create change and bring peace. I think there must be nothing wrong with doing this, or probably there must?
He asks me about my time and trips within Israel, my professional occupation in Spain, my trip to Jordan, the way I'm paying for my trips, other countries I have visited in the world... I explain him about my MA in Peace and Conflict Resolution, I explain him about my trip to Jordan for a Peace Conference organized by an American Organization. I explain him about my trips to Turkey, Georgia or Athens, also related to Conflict resolution... He is quite nice and conversation flows normally. At a certain moment he warns me that a security checking of my belongings will take place. Please don't take this personally, I hope this does not discourage you from coming back to Israel again, he says. I have been nervous about this moment all day.
After the questions, the nice man talks to other security officers. At least three of them come to take “my case”. He and the other officers talk on the side as they look at my passport. A small and quite man comes to look for me. He asks me to follow him to a room where he will body-check me. I get into a small cabin, 1x1 m, very similar to a photobooth. They tell me to take off my shoes and belt and all I have in my pockets. They go X-ray these items. The quiet man comes back. I have to take off my pants. Please sir, turn around and open your arms. He searches with a metal detector over all my body. Then he leaves. I wait for around 20 minutes there, while I hear a whole family of Arabs (father, daughter, old grandmother) being checked all the way too. Minutes go by slowly and I start wondering what is taking them so long. The quiet man comes back, now with a superior officer. Kol besseder? I ask him. Ken, ken, you speak Hebrew? Where did you learn Hebrew? I speak a bit, I say, I went to Ulpan. Which Ulpan? I tell them the name of it. Why did you go to Ulpan? He asks. I thought it would be good to integrate in the culture, I answer. Yeah, maybe if you want to become a citizen, he laughs ironically looking at his colleague implying I could never do that even if I wanted.
He says they have found some kind of metal in my trousers. I am amazed. I am wearing thin cloth trousers (summer ones). I tell them, of course there is metal for the zip (the only beep they heard was when going over the zip) but they ignore me and tell me to take my pants off again. I do that. They check over all my body again with the metal detector. Now more carefully, as though really trying to find Excalibur under my summer trousers.
Both men leave. 2 minutes later the quiet man comes back with a white stick with a piece of cloth at the end. After I learn it's a bomb detector. He asks me again to take my pants down again. He takes it over all my body and clothes again. He makes me turn around and open my arms again. Then he keeps it aside. Please sir, turn around and open your arms (for the third time). He puts on some gloves and checks with his hands aaaaall over my body. He checks every inch of me while I'm standing there with my pants down. What exactly are you looking for? I ask him. He says, it's just security procedure.
After this, the superior comes back and asks if I have other shoes in my suitcase. I answer affirmatively. The quiet man brings my shoes and belt back and tells me I can dress. He says we can go out of the 1x1m room where I've been kept for the last 30-40 minutes. I go out to the airport lobby where my suitcases are waiting for me.
Another security officer asks me to open my suitcases. I open all of them. In a moment I see around 4 new security officers (apart from the 3-4 that are already looking at my electronic devices) that start taking all my stuff out of them. I cannot believe what I am seeing. They start checking every piece of clothes, using some kind of bomb detector on all of them. They take all of my books out, try to look between the pages, they ask me to take all my electronic devices out. It's like a live episode of CSI based on me and my belongings. I am a really suspicious man, I think ironically.
I have an old cellphone I've been using with an Israeli card, a smartphone with my Spanish card, a laptop, a camera and a laptop cooler. They x-ray all of them and ask me to turn all of them on. They ask me to see pictures in my camera. I tell them I have most of them in my laptop. They check the ones I have on it, mainly about the demonstration in Tel Aviv that same night. They check my smartphone. They say it's ok. Then they want to check my laptop. My laptop broke a month ago, it is not working properly. They ask me to go into the BIOS of it to check my harddrives. I do it for them. They comment everything in the laptop is in “Sfaradit” and after realizing their impotence to understand it ask me to turn it off. What are you looking for, I ask the man? You have already checked everything I have, why do you need to see pictures or data in my computer? This has nothing to do with security, right? As long as planes don't blow up in the air, we'll be ok, he answers to me.
I go back to the four tables now occupied with all my belongings. I wonder why I cared to fold things and make a suitcase for a while in the evening, when now everything is just a mess. The guys tell me I have to put all electronic devices in my suitcase, I cannot take them in my handluggage. I agree to it without any problem. Then a supervisor comes. She starts overviewing all my stuff and speaks to me with an extremely arrogant tone, looking at me in the eyes and lifting her chin, as though she was an attorney talking to an accused in a trial.
What is the reason for your trip to Israel? She asks. (I have answered this so many times already, I can't believe it). Tourism, I answer. Tourism? Are you sure? There is no other reason for your trip to Israel? No, I answer, tourism. Why do you have so many books, she says? I am a student, I answer. But you didn't come here to study, did you? No, but I like reading. Yeah, but you're on vacation, why do you have so many books? I like reading, I say again. You like reading? But why so many books? You didn't come here to read, did you? She asks now rising her voice and looking at me as though accusing me of something and expecting me to tell the truth about it. I don't really know what to say. I like reading, I say again.
She starts checking all my papers. I have my sheets from Ulpan and from the Arabic class I attended at the NGO I've been working with. Ah, you're learning Arabic? Why are you learning Arabic? I am interested in the Middle East so I am learning both Hebrew and Arabic. Ah, you learn Hebrew too? Where? In an Ulpan. Why? Cause I wanted to learn the language (by now this is far more than exhausting and annoying). Why did you come to Israel? Why didn't you stay in Spain or go to deal with other conflicts? I am interested in Education for Peace in the Middle East and I was invited by some Israeli institutions. She continues looking at every piece of paper I have. She sees my ticket from Amman to Petra. This is from my visit to Petra, I say. Oh, how long did you stay in Jordan (third time they ask me this)? I was there about a week. Why did you go there? I went there to a Peace Conference with people from an Israeli NGO. What is the name of the Israeli NGO? Its name is Wounded Crossing Borders. What do they do? They create dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. How do they do? They meet with them? Where? I have no idea, I just met them in our trip to Jordan (I think this is getting a bit too far).
The woman continues looking through every sheet of paper I have. She sees a map of the settlement I have, edited by B'Tselem. Ah! You also visited B'Tselem? (she says, as saying: “not only you are a dangerous European who reads books about Israel and the conflict, but you also visit organizations like B'Tselem!!!!). I answer that I didn't visit them, a friend gave that to me. Which friend? What's his name? I give them my friend's name. They don't even care about it. They have asked me repeatedly about names of Israeli friends, but they never really wrote them down or cared to call them, even if I offered to give them their numbers.
Another man just comes asking me about the shoes again. I think I can count around 10 people just working on me (the only one on the security counter by this time) He wants me to give him my other shoes. I give him my summer shoes to be x-rayed again. He brings the shoes back. Now he asks me if I can change shoes and wear my summer shoes instead of the ones I'm wearing (Adidas classic shoes). It seems these shoes can be dangerous too. They say they will take my Adidas shoes in a different cardboard box, as they can't be checked in with my regular luggage. I agree without a problem.
A guy comes and says I can start repacking the 3 tables spread with my stuff. They won't help me do it, even if they have messed every single piece in my luggage. He also tells me that they have to keep my laptop for further checking and they will send it in the next flight. I cannot believe what I'm hearing. I have to sign some piece of paper and give again my details. When I arrive in Spain I cannot find my cellphone amongst my belongings either. They must have kept it too, probably “by accident”.
My feelings are betraying my integrity. After having been bodysearched 3 times, checked my personal belongings, questioned inquisitively and violently, accused of I do not know why (at least felt like it), confiscated some of my belongings... I really feel like crying. Now not only have I been naked physically in front of the Israeli Authorities, but also naked intellectually, personally... They will know everything about me, from the color of my shorts to the names and phone numbers of my friends, the books I like reading and the music I like listening, my personal writings in my harddrive, the articles I read, or the webpages I frequently visit... I am shaking and have a mixture of incredible fear and sadness in me. I cannot imagine the trouble coming back to this country will be after this. I wonder if it will ever be worth trying again, expecting at least a similar treatment or, not to mention, a possible deportation for "security reasons" or not even being let on a plane at home airport. I try to tell one of the officers how I feel and ask him why all this was necessary. He sees my sincere feelings and answers: I will be frank with you, superior security officers have profiled you for certain reasons as potentially dangerous. That is why we had to apply all these security measures.
A young European man travelling in Israel becomes a high-rank “potential threat”, just because. I understand the security concerns of a country with terrorist threats. It's not like in Spain we don't know about it after having lost around 1200 lives in the last 30 years and having suffered the worst terrorist attack in Europe ever. It's not like I don't feel fear and great concern every time I get on a regional train in Madrid, in the metro in Barcelona, in the car parking of any of our airports, in any left-wing demonstration...
On the other hand, how many Europeans or Spaniards have perpetrated terrorist attacks against Israel? How many Europeans have been proved to be planning any violent action against this country? What features made me become a “potential threat” against the State of Israel after checking I have neither weapons, nor metal, nor bombs, nor obvious intentions to do it? What made me a potential threat after several letters, calls and visits with different Israeli individuals to the Ministry of Interior, proving the veracity of my academic background, experience and motivation to come to Israel and after getting a special visa based on these?
It is not difficult to understand that the threat I pose has nothing to do with security but with politics. It is not difficult to understand that the insistence on my lectures, books and visits to Israeli NGO's has more to do with the danger of knowledge than the danger of terrorism. Thus security officers are not representing the interests of the Israeli population, but rather those of a certain Israeli government. It is not difficult to understand that what I've gone through in the airport had more to do with having a psychological effect on me, rather than with any real security threat.
My experience in Israel
Some days ago I was talking to an Israeli friend who openly considers herself a right-winger. From the first moment she knew I was coming to Israel to work with a Peace NGO, she kind of classified me as some kind of left-winger, hippy, idealist, pot-smoker and anti-Israeli. She kept asking me inquisitively about my reasons to go to Israel and how I would feel if everyone came to my country trying to tell me what I have to do. I answered that this happens to me all the time, as we also have conflicts in Spain and many people in the world come and talk about them. She insisted on the fact that she lives there and I don't, and she knows and suffers what is really happening there. I answered that living in a place does not make you omniscient or completely objective about what happens there. Then she kept on joking and praising the way the Israeli authorities treat foreigners at the airport, observing that it is “good and necessary for security”.
I would like to tell her and everyone thinking like her that I did not come to the Middle East to tell anyone what they had to do and I never tried to do this with anyone. I came to the Middle East to understand the situation, to learn about the reality of life in Israel and the Occupied Territories, to evaluate the role European organizations and governments can and should play in solving this conflict. I came to the Middle East as a student of Peace and Conflict Resolution, as an observer to one of the longest and most stuck conflicts in the world. I came to try to understand and see from an objective point of view a conflict that is yet unresolved and seems not to move anywhere. This turned me into an intruder, a danger, a potential terrorist, a man guilty of something that has to be checked and questioned severely to prove otherwise. This turned me into someone that deserved inhuman treatment and humiliation in the eyes of the Israeli authorities and some people in the Israeli public.
Probably this time she, those thinking like her and their security authorities will have won. I might not want to go back to Israel again. They left clear Spanish guys like me are not welcome in this country, just because. Neither me nor any member of my family or friends will want to go there ever, as I don't need to explain here their reaction of panic after me telling them my experiences at the airport, both on arrival and on departure. Probably they can be happy that humiliation and dehumanization works as a way to scare the hell out of those that want to go to their country to “tell you what to do”, instead of letting them, Israeli-born and omniscient peace-makers that have proved to solve zero conflict in 60 years, do it by themselves. Probably they will even celebrate the fact that eventually no one will want to go there and they will be left finally alone, without anyone hating or wanting to harass them. Probably they think that this is the only way to really live in peace, finally, after a long story of suffering and hatred against them.
However, I just hope if they ever come to my country and are harassed and humiliated half as much as I have been in them (it took 5 minutes to the whole Israeli passage in my flight to arrive to the luggage lounge, once in Barcelona), they will tell me, because instead of laughing or praising it I will be the first one to protest against it and let everyone know how unfair it is what happened. And it's not like extremist Christians and extreme pro-Israeli right-wingers are no threat for us in Europe, too. However, I just hope that by the end of the day, just before it is too late, and for their sake and that of their country, they will come to realize that imposing, dehumanizing, humiliating, letting the other know who is in power and how much they can do against him if they want, is no way to end with hatred, rage and willingness to engage in violence against them. Rather the contrary. And now I know it from my own personal experience, just a few hours ago.