Dear Friends of Saint George Taybeh,
I hope you are having a wonderful and blessed summer. While people across the globe are enjoying these summer months with the freedom to travel, American citizens with a Palestinian background are not allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv to visit their homeland.
It was frustrating to read this account I am sharing with you at the end because I thought about my own son who wants to travel for our Taybeh Oktoberfest and Ben Gurion airport is less than 45 minutes away. Although born in Boston, he cannot have the convenience of using his American passport.
It would be a pure miracle if Palestinians too can have the same basic human rights and freedom of movement as everyone else. It will also be a miracle if the new checkpoint Israel put at the entrance of Taybeh can just go away. Every time I want to exit the village I repeat to the Israeli soldiers that we are a peaceful location but they are making us go crazy when I their treatment.
Occupation is becoming harder than ever to explain to my friends but we pray and hope for better times! (Also, please allow me to wish all of our Eastern Orthodox Christian friends a blessed Holy Dormition fast for August.)
Glory be to God for all things!
PALESTINIAN AMERICAN AT LYDDA AIRPORT
After 20 years of not visiting or seeing Jerusalem and my homeland Palestine, I decided to go back, this time as an American citizen with an American passport which I gained in 1975. The trip was intended to be a religious pilgrimage with Father Bernard Poggie to visit my homeland and see friends and places I haven’t seen for so long. Once we arrived to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, they allowed Bernard to enter. For me, I was sent to the “green room” for questioning. The conversation that ensued is this:
The Shin Beth agent stated it very bluntly, “You are Palestinian. Your American passport is worthless. Do not try to deny the fact that you are a Palestinian.” I answered very bluntly as well, “I never denied my Palestinian identity. I am Palestinian from head to toe, my father is Palestinian, my mother is Palestinian, my brothers and sister is Palestinian. I hail from Rafidia-Nablus, my grandfather was an Orthodox priest and I can trace my Palestinian roots for the last 500 years.”
I made perfectly clear to them that I didn’t come as a Palestinian to visit the Holy Land but as an American citizen and you should honor this American passport like all other countries in the world. The security officer (who I believe to be a Shin Bet official) retorted with the utmost sarcasm and cynicism, “How do you want me to honor your American passport? Do you want me to kiss it, to hug it, or to worship it?” “Moreover,” he added, “You are rude and ill-mannered. How did you get to be so rude?” I answered, “I am neither rude nor ill-mannered I am just pointing to the facts. I always traveled on the strength of my American passport, I never held a Palestinian passport and never lived in Palestine under the Palestinian Authority.” His answer was, “You will be deported to Jordan and come the Allenby Bridge to continue your visit to the Holy Land.” (The Allenby bridge is the connection between Jordan in Israel. Palestinians can only enter the West Bank through this bridge because they are not allowed in through Israel proper.)
I agreed to my deportation to Jordan and he made me sign a deportation paper. A few minutes later the story changed and now he wants me deported to the Fiumicino Airport in Italy because that’s where I stopped before landing in Tel Aviv. I was stunned but agreed to it.
The airport guards came and took me with a few other people amongst whom was a Palestinian lady with her daughter. They were both American citizens but Palestinian-born. The Israeli’s told the two of them that they would be deported back to the US but they would deported separately. They both broke down in tears and pleaded with them to at least allow them to be deported together but to no avail. They drove us about half an hour away from the airport and held us like criminals in a detention facility from Monday to Thursday morning. They locked us up, forbade me personally from keeping my IPhone, refused me to take a book with me to that filthy room and threw me there with a bunch of poor, hungry, and disoriented men from different national and ethnic backgrounds. That was July 20th and we were at the airport from 5pm to almost 1am Tuesday morning.
At that detention center we were given sandwiches whenever they remembered we were human beings who might get hungry after such an ordeal, and there were two young men, one Korean and the other Russian who were truly hungry. They could not speak one word of English. They knocked at the window asking the guards who were chatting and smoking in the backyard of the building to allow them some food. At the detention facility they were roughed up, verbally abused, and totally disrespected by young Zionist thugs who despite their young age must have already lost any trace of their humanity. We didn’t sleep a wink because they kept the bright neon lights on the entire time. I dared to ask one of them about his name because he spoke Arabic who was trying to ingratiate himself with us. I told him you know the names of all of us “What’s your name” dared I ask. He said, “George. My name is George.” The other guards remained totally anonymous, insulted us by using disrespectful and abusive language, and forbade us from speaking to one another from each others prison cells.
To make a long story short, I found out Thursday morning that from the start they intended to deport me neither to Jordan, nor to Italy, but back to San Francisco. Moreover, they stole my luggage with all the clothes in it and I was forced to remain in the same clothes from Sunday to Thursday. I say they stole my luggage because Father Poggi, who parted with me at the airport with the intention of meeting me in Jordan (as Israeli security officer had told us) saw my bag as he was leaving the airport, assuming I would pick it up on my way out. Little did we know how naive we were to believe that we are dealing with professional liars and thieves. I was lucky enough to have my handbag with me the entire time. My carry on luggage contained my insulin. I am a diabetic and not having my insulin with me at all times would be fatal.
Thursday morning at the detention center I was picked up around 9:30 a.m. and taken straight to the run way to the airplane (not through the terminal) using movable stairs. The guard had my passport and three tickets to San Francisco, changing my itinerary from KLM to Alitalia-Delta to New York, with the strict instruction to the pilot and the crew not to give me back my passport until I boarded the plane from Italy to the USA.
This is, in gist, what happened to an American citizen who dared to travel to Israel with his American citizenship for a visit and whose only crime was the fact that I am Palestinian. Its stunning that I as an American citizen for the last 40 years and as a native son of Jerusalem, I was denied on both counts entry into my homeland for a visit, while Jews from around the world (including Peruvian Indians from the Andes), who have never stepped foot on that land, are welcomed with open arms and offered citizenship to Israel.
I’m back in San Francisco now. They took something that was suppose to be a vacation from my long work hours, a reconnection with my homeland and old friends, and made it a nightmare from hell. I was disrespected, demeaned and treated like I committed a crime. To add insult to injury, I called my travel agent to have him help me recover some money from the lost return ticket only to discover that the funds for my return ticket was already used to fund my deportation by the Israelis. I tell you my story so as to encourage people to visit more often Palestine and to challenge the thuggery of this racist, Zionist entity and do it here in the USA as well as in Israel. Without the US’s blind and unconditional financial and political support of the state of Israel, the occupation and all its tragedies against the Palestinians would not continue.