I Don’t Take Care of Palestinians

One woman's experience at Ben Gurion Airport

If you ever needed to take a 20+ hour flight to get home all you’d be thinking about is seeing your family, resting in your house. That is what Amani Aruri was thinking as her flight touched down in Tel Aviv when she had an experience she never thought she’d go through before.

Arriving at Tel Aviv airport at around 1:00 AM in the morning, Amani Aruri was relieved to finally be home after a 21 hour trip from the United States where she was to get medical treatment. The Jewish holiday of Yum Kippur meant the airport was crowded with people heading to Israel to spend the holiday with their family. Aruri a Palestinian was also thinking about seeing her family that day as well. Finally reaching passport control after a long queue she heard something she never thought she would hear. “I don’t take care of Palestinians,” said the airport clerk, taking her passport and passing it to a supervisor standing nearby. Aruri stood by as the woman supervising passport control approached her and began yelling “Don’t you understand? You are not allowed to enter Israel!” Exhausted as she was, Aruri asked why she wasn’t allowed to enter, then the next shock set it in.

“I just said you can’t enter Israel and we are going to send you back to the U.S.”

Shocked, not knowing what to say or do, Aruri tried to keep her calm. But the woman tempered and humiliating her in front of everyone at the terminal only pushed her to answer back “I have a permit,” Aruri said. Taking out her permit to show the supervisor, to which the she replied said “I don’t care about your permit, I just want to send you back to the US!” After being made to wait for two hours, Aruri was taken to security check with some officers. Entering the hall for security check, she was the only one there surrounded by several officers. Tired, fatigued and shook she asked to sit down a request that was refused. Feeling her low blood pressure, she also asked for a drink of water which was also refused until she finished her security check. It would be three hours before they had finished her security check.

They then took her to a small booth with a curtain, the men were waiting outside. The women began checking every part of her body. They searched her hair, her clothes and not once stopping the search. Aruri, who had recently undergone a medical procedure still had the wound where the doctors had operated, asked them not to touch her head. The scar there was still fresh. The only response she received was  from one of the security officers who told her “It doesn’t matter, you won’t die.” Adding insult to injury, the security officers began joking about her. When asked to be gentle when searching her head, the officer began applying more pressure and pressing against the wound; as if Aruri was not human.

She was searching my body, and I held my breath. Because at the end of the day they are Israelis and we are Palestinians, we can’t expect better treatment than this. Because this is what we go through on checkpoints in our daily lives, not only at the airport.

Thinking her ordeal was over, Aruri took a sigh of relief. The officers then asked her to take her clothes off, a request that drove her out of her mind. “I wouldn’t do this even if you shoot me in the head,” she told them. The officers however, were not going to let this slide as they tried to force her to take her clothes off. They wanted to perform a full body search to which Aruri was not consenting. In that moment, all she could think about were the Palestinian women who must go through this all the time. Even women who hold the Jerusalem ID undergo this experience of “routine” searches only because they pose a flight risk as they are Palestinian.

Snapping back to reality, Aruri still adamant about consenting to the strip search as the curtains of the booth were not completely closed; and behind the thin fabric the male security officers were standing watching. Unable to convince her, the female officer called the others who began threatening her, telling her “you better do this or you will get another treatment. You will see our other face.”

They went through all of her things. They opened her medications, which were sealed for medical purposes. She would not use them as she saw them going through the pills. The fears of living through the global Covid19 pandemic has everyone worrying about hygiene.

Three hours later, the humiliation of the security check was finally over. They escorted her to another room. They told her that her flight back to the United States was at 6:00AM. The room was inside the washroom area, it was dirty and in bad condition. The open ceiling exposed the pipes for the airport’s infrastructure. She was told to wait until they escorted her to the airplane. At around 5:00AM she finally received the drink of water she requested hours ago. They told her she can rest here for an hour and then rest some more on the plane.

Half an hour before the flight, a glimmer of hope appeared. Her colleagues from work had finally returned the call. They had already began coordinating with the Israeli MSA and had contacted the relevant Israeli institutions. They also wanted to talk to the officers that were holding, but they refused to speak to anyone until she returns to the United States. Two hours would’ve made a difference with her, but to no avail. Two hours and she would have had a new permit. Pleading with the officers, her diplomat colleagues could not find a solution. At 6:00 AM they took her to the airplane, half an hour before takeoff.

As Aruri approached the Airplane’s door, she was filled with dread. It’s as if she was staring at a nightmare, a bad dream. She couldn’t believe she was being returned to the United States. She was only a half hour away from her home. She tried one more time to plead with the security officers. Just to give her the two hours she needed. Her request fell on deaf ears. She tried resisting, but the officers pushed her onto the plane, threatening to use violence if she didn’t comply. Then another thought dawned upon her, she still didn’t have her passport followed by another; where are they sending her? She inquired on her destination, are they returning her to Chicago? She didn’t know that her destination was California until she was on the plane.

The worst case scenario going through Aruri’s mind was that she would be sent to California, and then connect her to a flight heading to Chicago, Illinois; it would have been very difficult to book another flight at the same time. 30 minutes before landing, they moved her to business class and was told to wait. The attendants or the security were keeping her passport, which she would receive when she arrives in the airport. When the plane’s door opened, the security in the aircraft handed her passport to the security in the airport. She was then led to customs and immigration. She felt like she was a criminal, guilty of a crime for the different treatment she was receiving.

She remained there for seven hours. She told them of her experience at Ben Gurion airport, which surprised and shocked them. They apologized to her saying they were only following protocols and procedures. They told her she can’t remain here and needs to book a ticket to Chicago. The Israelis did not care where she went, they returned her to San Francisco without any connecting flight to Chicago. She had to book another ticket so she can receive her passport. A task that would take her seven more hours, and three hours later she would board the plane returning her to Chicago.

49 hours later, she was back to where she began her journey, exhausted, shocked and on the other side of the planet away from her family for circumstances outside of her control. The experience left her too tired to walk, going from one airport to another. Repeating her ordeal at every stop. Amani Aruri’s experience is one that she shares with many Palestinian women who travel. Being treated like a foreigner in the country of your origin.

Mohammad Hamayel

Ramallah based journalist, Mohammad graduated from Al-Quds University with a B.A. in Media and Television. He has covered the 2015 Jerusalem Intifada as well as the Great March of Return for international media outlets. currently an editor/presenter at Jerusalem24. A UN alumni and a follower of global events and politics, especially American affairs.

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