By Ray Hanania
Peter Beinart, the well-known Jewish American journalist and commentator, was “interrogated” by the notorious Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, during a trip to Israel at the weekend. Beinart’s “mistreatment” at Ben Gurion International Airport was showcased as another example of the crumbling state of Israel. It outraged many people, including, allegedly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
What Beinart went through doesn’t even come close to the level of abusive hatred Israelis heap on Palestinians and non-Jews who try to return to their homeland or to the homes and lands taken from them in 1948. During my first trip to the Occupied Territories in 1990, I was held at the border with Jordan and interrogated for hours. The Israeli security personnel were demeaning, offensive and hateful, and that was long before the internet made such stories so much more common.
My family was expelled from their West Jerusalem homes in 1948 while others were forced to flee, being brutalized and bullied by Israel. Despite my American passport the Israelis were unrepentant. They continued with their disparaging comments and humiliating abuse.
“Who is your father?” the Israeli guard snarled from behind steel bars. “George,” I replied, making mental notes. I was a journalist at the time covering Chicago City Hall and I figured this would be a great story to publish. Little did I know how much more resistant to the truth the American news media was over the Israelis.
A woman soldier slammed down the window from behind the steel bars separating us. I waited as four other Israeli soldiers stood by with their automatic weapons.
The window eventually slid back up and the woman, who had a heavy Russian accent, said again: “What is the name of your grandfather?” Ah, they got me, I smiled. “Saba,” I said proudly. My grandfather lived near the Church of the Nativity and my mother went to church there and prayed, I explained. “Christian?” they asked, as if it mattered to them.
This went on for hours, until they finally got to my wallet, showing just how ignorant some of these Israeli soldiers really are. There was one key thing in the wallet: A laminated red card with my name, picture and identification as a Chicago Sun-Times political reporter.
Back then, Israel feared journalists because they feared the truth. Suddenly, their attitude changed. They sent in a very pretty young Israeli woman, who didn’t have a weapon, to soften me up with “happy talk.” The First Intifada was raging and I explained I had come to see things first-hand. Eventually, after hours and hours of wasted time, they let me go.
What the Israelis didn’t know about me was that I was not surprised by how they mistreated me. They did that to everyone who was not Jewish — the vicious discrimination that is the true spirit of Israel.
Beinart may have experienced a little of what Palestinians continue to go through, but it doesn’t even come close to the abuse non-Israelis have suffered since Israel’s creation. They interrogated Beinart, but I doubt very much that he ever feared for his life.
When I returned from two weeks of living hell, confronted by Israeli soldiers shooting at anything that moved in the West Bank, I prized confidence from the belief that Israel through its discriminatory policies was slowly destroying itself.
Many Israelis say they don’t want a Palestinian state. But, at the rate they are going, one day they will wonder how they woke up to one.