By Julie Holm
So far I have spent six incredible months in Palestine, and I hope for many more. I consider Ramallah my home and the people here my family. Not everyone quite gets it when I say I love it there. Many Palestinians especially have a hard time understanding it. How can anyone love living under these conditions? The thing is, it is the people, not the circumstances under which they live, that I love.
It is only when I venture outside of my comfortable Ramallah bubble that I comprehend how living under occupation affects a person. I feel my body getting tenser while driving inside the West Bank, or taking the bus to Jerusalem, which often gives me a headache.
Nothing is as bad as the airport though. Already flying into Tel Aviv six months ago, I got a taste of Israeli fear tactics. They treated me as if I was a criminal and the young girl at passport control was obviously having a bad day and issued me a visa for a month only. I took up the fight with the Israeli bureaucratic system and won the first round and the much-wanted stamp in my passport.
With these experiences behind me I felt confident that I would be able to handle whatever they threw at me on my trip out of the country last week. First, the taxi was pulled over as I drove into the airport. I was told to step out and was asked a few questions, which I happily answered. “No problem,” I told myself, “I was prepared for this.” The security guards going through my luggage weren’t a problem either. Time consuming, yes, a little exaggerated, definitely, but nothing to get upset about.
It was not until I came to passport control that the real trouble started. I have talked a lot about this with friends who have done it many times before and know exactly what to say and what to do. The thing is, I don’t actually think it matters. If they want to harass you and make you uncomfortable, they will find a way. The two young girls at passport control were stamping passports, gossiping with each other and texting their boyfriends simultaneously. When it was my turn, both queues got held up for about 20 minutes. Why? Because I have been in Palestine for six months and gone in and out of Qalandia checkpoint countless times? Because I am a Palestine-activist? Because I write articles that are critical of Israel? No (or maybe it was, but that was not the reason they gave me). What bothered them most were the three days I spent in Jordan, where I was actually a tourist going to see Petra.
Apparently the visa Israel stamped on my passport crossing back over from the Allenby Bridge was illegal. They pointed at it and yelled, “This is not a visa”. Well, they could have fooled me, and every other Israeli solider that has looked at it for the past three months. The stamp even says that it is valid for three months. But this is exactly what I have learned from dealing with this system for some time now. They give you problems, make everything as difficult as possible, and don’t explain what they do or what you should do next. That way your problems only get bigger next time you want to renew your visa.
The people in line behind me started getting impatient, telling the girls to let me go. After five minutes of one girl frantically punching at her computer and the other girl making suggestions of what to write they smiled and said: “You will be lucky if you ever get into this country again”.
At the security check after passport control I was pulled aside, told to wait. People started reacting, especially the Danish tourists who were on the same flight as me. I told them it was okay, that this is what it was like here. I wanted to tell them that this is nothing compared to how Palestinians are treated, but thought that it might not be the time or the place for that.
I have always admired the ability many Palestinians seem to have in dealing with these kinds of situations by going around the restrictions put on them. Shortly before I left, a dear friend told me that I have been “Palestinianized”, that there is no way back for me now. And after this experience I agree. These tactics of trying to scare me from coming back are not going to work, and I too will find a way to get around them. I have fought Israeli bureaucracy before and I can do it again. If for nothing else, then at least so I can keep telling the world that the way they treated me at the airport is nothing compared to the way Israel treats Palestinians every day.
Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]