Sometimes, a single sentence from an interviewee immediately glows as bright as a firefly. This time it was the words of Rashid Dabak, standing next to the pile of rubble that only two hours earlier had been his home in the small West Bank village of Aqaba. The Civil Administration demolished his tin shack because the Israel Defense Forces had declared the area a firing zone. What about Palestinians living there? Let them disappear. Dabak, 61, concluded, “The problem with Israelis is that they suffer from a weak sense of humanism.” He made his diagnosis with sadness and compassion.
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His observation reminded me of the border control officers who, three weeks ago, had forbidden a 70-year-old man born in Jerusalem from entering the country because “Israel is for the Jews.” When George Khoury didn’t understand why, as an American citizen, he was not allowed to enter via Ben-Gurion International Airport, the officer told him, “Why are you denying that you’re a Palestinian?” Khoury answered that he was a proud Palestinian, but he also had an American passport the officer must honor. The response was: “How do you want me to honor your American passport? Do you want me to kiss it, to hug it, or to worship it?”
A week ago, I asked the Interior Ministry to comment on his testimony and that of the U.S.-Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa, who was denied entry via the Allenby Bridge two weeks ago. I attached the dialogues they’d had with border control officers, based on their reconstructions. I was unable to publish an article on the matter at the time, and in the meantime Gideon Levy summed up their complaints based on articles published on the Mondoweiss website.
Rudeness part of the job description?
With regard to Khoury, I asked Sabin Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration and Border Authority in the Interior Ministry, “Were the border inspectors briefed to say that the land belongs to the Jews and therefore it is forbidden for Palestinians to pass through the airport? Is it the duty of officials asking questions to be rude when they speak with Palestinians? Why was Mr. Khoury denied entry? After all, he holds an American passport and didn’t receive an identity card issued through the Palestinian Authority – wouldn’t it be wise to show some flexibility, for example, with 70 year olds? Why wasn’t he allowed to fly on to Jordan, in order to enter via the Allenby Bridge (instead, he was forced to return to the United States)? Why isn’t it permitted to read books in the detention facility of Ben-Gurion International Airport? Why are people in the facility not allowed to converse with detainees in another room? Why are the detention rooms filthy?”
Haddad answered, “Mr. Khoury claimed [!] that he had come to Israel on a tourist visit, as part of a tour group, and didn’t know anyone. An examination revealed that [Khoury] has Palestinian residency, and after a check conducted with representatives of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, it was explained to him that he must enter Israel via the Allenby Bridge, according to the Entry into Israel Law and the temporary order,” she said.
“Since your questions are not phrased as journalistic questions but as questions with investigative power – and in light of the fact that, based on a one-sided version of events, you have decided the facts even before the investigation – I will clarify: The questioning by border control officers is intended to determine whether the traveler is arriving in Israel with the appropriate visa for the purpose of their visit. The questioning is conducted daily in a professional and businesslike manner, and the alleged quotes noted in your request do not in any way match what happens in reality every day. If Mr. Khoury has objections concerning his questioning, there are accepted ways to question it besides contacting the media.”
At the Allenby Bridge crossing, the border control official asked Abulhawa where she would be staying in Jerusalem. She said with her cousin, and at the officer’s request gave his name. When the officer wanted to know the names of her other cousins, Abulhawa replied, “There’s hundreds of them. It’s a big family. I don’t get what you’re asking.” The officer responded (while slamming her hand on the table), “Who are you staying with?” Abulhawa reminded her that she had just told her his name.
I asked Haddad: Why did Abulhawa have to go through seven investigators/inspectors/COGAT representatives (for some seven hours)? In what way are her answers considered “noncooperation”? What should she have said so that her answers would be considered “cooperation”? Which body decided to deny her entry? The Interior Ministry, Shin Bet security service, COGAT?
This is the response I received: “Ms. Abulhawa was turned over to COGAT (at Allenby Bridge). When she came to the border control officer and was asked about the purpose of her trip and her details, she claimed she did not remember her name [!] and refused to cooperate. She acted with disrespect to the questioners, behaved crassly and rudely, cursed and made political statements that were irrelevant to the situation. All of those involved agreed that, in light of her conduct and lack of cooperation, she should be refused entry.”
Note: Publishing the spokeswoman’s response does not mean acknowledgment of the accuracy of her claims. The testimonies of Abulhawa and Khoury join those of other foreign citizens – Palestinians and others – on the aggressive, arrogant and suspicious attitude that accompanies the denial of their entry to Palestine/Israel. And then their testimonies go viral online.