Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Making life hard so they won't come back
"I am Samy, from the Ministry of Defense, it’s been a few days that I’ve been waiting for your arrival, I will work on you today, we will put everything on the table, it will be hard because I am not a nice person, I am strong, this is why they chose me for you, you are a special person Nadia, and you will get the best security system we have, if you collaborate with us we will help you."
Not the words I hear at Israel's border because I am a non-Arab, non-Palestinian Brit. But this was how Nadia Hasan, a Chilean Palestinian, was greeted at Ben Gurion airport after getting official Israeli permission to move to the West Bank. Persuambly an accurate recollection, it is a fascinating ride through the gruelling interrogation you get as a Palestinian arriving at the borders.
Nadia finishes by saying "I will keep apart" - that she will not return. Although she changes her mind later, this is pretty obviously what Israel wants - to make going to Palestine so harrowing for Palestinians who are foreign citizens that they will simply not bother coming ever again.
Take this - a mother and son, both US citizens, savagely beaten at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan into the West Bank last summer.
"As hard as he could, he hit my face. I fell to the floor and hit my head on the metal bar in the security fence. I have two stitches and my nose is really smashed. My shirt and my pants were covered in blood" - it happened after her son who doesn't speak Arabic refused to hand over his iPod to a plain clothes security officer.
Another family pledging never to come back...
"My son was so excited. He was listening to the Bible on his i-pod. He wanted to come a day earlier. He wanted to go everywhere- where Jesus Christ was, where he was born. Now he doesn’t want to go into town because he is too scared. He can’t look me in the eye because he feels responsible, that it’s his fault. He never wants to come back, neither do I. I’m never coming back for this again. That’s probably the point, they don’t want anybody to come back."
The Right to Enter campaign is an example of a well-organised and successful Palestinian campaign. This time last year Israel cooked up a military law saying that foreign citizens had no right to enter the West Bank on an Israeli tourist visa. At the same time it continued to be basically impossible for foreign citizens to get permission to reside indefinitely in the West Bank, say for family reasons. So about 1,000 families were split up, with one member being booted out. The campaign made the military order look very nasty and as a result it was rescinded.
But the Campaign argues that Israel continues to deny entry to Palestinians who are foreign nationals simply by refusing to allow them into Israel at Ben Gurion on a "case by case basis" - which combined with "security concerns" is the ultimate device for exercising arbitrary control. No country can force another country to allow entry to its citizens.
Why not call it what it is - ethnic cleansing by bureacracy, the only kind the world will swallow these days.
And me? I last entered Israel from Aqaba in the south of Jordan a few days ago. I was wearing a brown t-shirt from Nablus with the word "Palestine" and "Nablus" written on it in Arabic and a picture of a soldier pointing a gun at a youth on the back. It was unintentional - I forgot I was wearing it. No point in needlessly riling the border spooks. All it earned me was a 3-minute chat with a woamn who asked me if I knew what the words meant.
As long as you don't actually have any connection to the area, you can travel about in it as freely as a bird.
* Pix are from Petra in Jordan