Palestine Blog #3: “What is the purpose of your trip?” The African Heritage Delegation enters Israel/Palestine

July 18th, 2011

Today the historic African Heritage delegation of IFPB stepped on to Palestinian soil. We are joined by the “Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders” young peoples’ delegation co-sponsored by IFPB and AFSC. We arrived in the Ben-Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv and in general we didn’t have an inordinate amount of obstacles to entering the country.

At the same time, a few of us were targeted for special questioning that made for a very tense atmosphere. Given that Palestinian solidarity activists had conducted a “Flytilla” civil disobedience delegation to Israel last week, we knew that the security would be heightened.

Avery, a member of our delegation, realized he was being observed on our flight from the UK to Tel-Aviv. A man sat next to him that asked him a lot of questions about our trip and our reasoning for coming to Israel. When Avery asked this man if he had any suggestions for where to go he replied, “Ask your trip leader,” making it clear that his questions weren’t friendly airplane chatter. Then as soon as I got off the plane, an airport security agent pulled me aside and grilled me: “What is the purpose of your trip?…Where are you going?...What is the purpose of your stay?…Which locations are you going to?...Why are you here?” If I had answered, “To help bring about peace and justice,” I would have surly been deported. So I just said, “To see the Holy Land,” over and over again. She eventually let me go join up with the rest of the delegation.

When I got to passport control, the first question the women asked me was, “What religion are you?” After a few questions she decided I need further interrogation. She pulled me out of line, took my passport, and proceeded to a back room. She emerged a few minuets later with a man who approached me speaking in Arabic. I told him I didn’t understand what he was saying, and replied, “Are you sure?” Once it was established that I didn’t speak Arabic, the women then began going through the questions again, “Why are you here, where are you going, how long are you going to be here, etc…” Fortunately, the Jewish leader of the Youth delegation was by my side during this round of questioning. She explained that the purpose of our trip was to see the Holy Land. Then when she explained that she had studied in Israel and knew my father that they ceased questioning me and allowed me to pass.

Getting on our tour bus was a relief, but I could feel the tension in the group grow again as our tour guide began to explain what we were seeing out of the window. He explained that Israeli license plates were all yellow and Palestinian license plates were green and white. He told us that we wouldn’t see any of the green and white plates on the road we were taking because Palestinians would be subject to relentless harassment by the IDF if they were to travel on this road. He then proceeded to point out roads nearby that disappeared into a hill and told us that Palestinians have to use a separate highway network in the region that is largely underground. This network of roads often greatly increases travel times. The apartheid apparatus began to come into focus as we passed through two check points on our way from the airport in Tel-Aviv, saw barbed wire fences lining the highways, and heard the explanation from our guide about the different legal statuses that Palestinians live under, depending on their location.

We made it to the Holy Land Hotel and I am going to crash soon…We have a tour of the Old City early tomorrow morning.