By Julie Holm
When I left Palestine one and a half weeks ago I had mentally prepared myself for the dreaded lines and the harsh questions I knew awaited me at the Ben Gurion airport. I braced myself with patience as I approached the line for the first security check – it seemed to go on for miles and miles. My flight was early on a Friday morning, which means I arrived at the airport around midnight Thursday night. I took a deep breath and got in line, thinking about what I should do to pass the time. I looked around me and realized that my fellow travellers were not all what I had expected. In addition to the traditional tourists, the backpackers, the business people, the Jews, the Israelis and the large Arab Palestinian families, there somehow seemed to be more glitz and glam than usual. A woman in front of me was wearing a denim jacket with the face of a woman pictured on it in imitation diamonds, sparkling in the bright airport lights. The people relaxing or sleeping in the waiting areas seemed to be more dressed up than usual. Then two men came to the line and stood behind me. They were both on their IPhones, comparing pictures: “Oh, look at this one, look at this one.” “What time did the show start? I am just emailing Michael to let him know how amazing it was.” And so they kept going, about lights and costumes and crowds and music until I realized what was going on: Madonna had played a concert in Tel Aviv the same night and all of these people, glamming up at the airport were Madonna fans who were on their way back after her concert.
As they kept talking it was obvious that they did not know about the thorough security checks and long lines awaiting them. I considered turning around to explain the system to them but as we approached the first of many security guards I kept to myself and did my best to look innocent and non-threatening.
I am not going to complain about the treatment I got at the airport this time. Yes, the lines were long and the questions intrusive, but it is really all about the people you meet and how you approach them. I chitchatted with the girl who was going through my luggage, joked with the two girls at the security check and smiled at the guy in the passport control who let me through easily with a “God bless you”. It was a far cry from the last time I travelled through this airport. I couldn’t believe my luck.
As I waited in line after line I had the opportunity to observe how everyone else coped with the situation. The Madonna-fans were still high on the experience of the concert and floated through on that feeling. Many of the elderly tourists got a little overwhelmed by all the intrusive checks, while the backpackers just sat on the ground and waited patiently. I smiled as several German people complained of the lack of system and order; how could the guards let anyone in front of them in line and why did it all take so long? And then there were the Americans who pretended like they owned it all and had the right to do and say whatever they wanted. The Israelis and the Jews had their own lines and a minimum of checks while the Arabs and Palestinians were checked the most thoroughly.
As a foreigner you never really know how smoothly everything is going to be but if you look Arabic or have an Arabic-sounding name, you will have to brace yourself with even more patience than the American Madonna-fans and the German business people. Because of the Israeli apartheid system most of the Palestinians are not even allowed to move freely in their own country, let alone travel from the Israeli airport. This is what I tell myself when I go though the airport, and what I wanted to explain to my fellow travellers who kept complaining: this is nothing compared to what the Palestinians go through. We might have our luggage and bodies search, and have to wait in line, but the Palestinians have their houses demolished and their land stolen and they have to wait weeks, months or even years just to get a permit to go to Jerusalem. As a foreigner at the airport you never know what you get, but as a Palestinian, it’s business as usual, despite the glitz and glam of some of their more fortunate fellow travellers.
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]