Bad Trip at the Airport

Dr. Husam Mohamad joins a list of distinguished guests, including academics, who, because they have an Arab name, or because they come from a Middle Eastern country, are subjected to insulting abuse.

"I only remember that he told me he is a political science student at Bar-Ilan University. He asked me how long it took me to do my doctorate, as though Arabs can't do it like Jews. Then he asked me why and where I meet Israelis, in a kind of tone suggesting that I use them for 'certain' purposes. I told him I was not interested in discussing my opinions because they are my private opinions, and it was still too early in the morning to discuss them.

"But I don't think he really cared. His whole purpose seemed to be to make my life unpleasant, because he had already seen the letter of invitation and knew all about the conference to which I was invited by Ben-Gurion University. He made me feel nationality in a way I hadn't felt for decades."

In his restrained language Dr. Husam Mohamad, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin who is a professor of political science of the University of Central Oklahoma, describes the events of the morning on which he intended to return home. Following the deep "research" by the student, Dr. Mohamad was escorted to the search booth, where he underwent a body search, after which a female checker entered and went through all his personal effects.

"During the whole time I felt like a prisoner, even though she cheered me up and said everything was fine. She was a very different Israeli from the first idiot. The only time she made me angry was when she referred to me as 'Arabs' when she wanted to take me to passport control. Maybe she said it because she thought I don't understand Hebrew." Now Dr. Mohamad thought he was already free of the bonds of the interrogation, investigation, search and examination - but no. "Two women and a man came over to me and asked me whom I saw in Israel. I was asked three times to state my name, my father's name, my grandfather's name and my surname. That is all right, it is possible that there are cases in which names can be similar, especially when it comes to a common name like Mohamad."

Dr. Mohamad joins a list of distinguished guests, including academics, who, because they have an Arab name, or because they come from a Middle Eastern country, are subjected to insulting abuse. None of them, be it the important Turkish journalist Semih Idiz, the Egyptian researcher Ashraf Radi or Husam Mohamad, had any problem with the security check. All of them understand the need to ask and inquire. But none of them is ready to accept insults, invasion of privacy or "political discussions about their opinions."

"The peak came when they asked me why I live in Ankara," Semih Idiz wrote last year, in a sharply worded article reacting to the treatment he received when he left Israel following his visit a year ago. "I could not help asking myself whether, if this is how the state's representatives treat a well-known person who is visiting from a friendly country, then God help the others."

God, of course, did not help the others. Because between the chrome bars and blue ropes that demarcate the lines at the airport are apparently a few "intellectuals" bent on evil who find it beneath their dignity to make do with a substantive security check. After all, they are students and they have a deep understanding of the way of life of the Orient, they know an Arab when they see one even if he is a Turk and they will not pass up the opportunity for a little mental violence to liven up the dreary morning shift. Who are you, Jordanian professor, or you, Turkish journalist, or you, Egyptian researcher, or just plain Israeli Arab in the face of the arrogance of these people who wear smart tags?

When I asked Foreign Ministry officials why they don't do something, they shrugged their shoulders in a gesture of characteristic impotence and said, "It's the Shabak" - the Shin Bet security service. As though this were some sort of force majeure. It's doubtful that the Shin Bet really wants to know the main points of Dr. Mohamad's lecture. After all, it was about reform and democracy in the Middle East.