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Security Questioning / Questioning Security
Thursday, October 29: Jerusalem

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Trip reports to not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.

“Do You Have Family Here?”

As expected, all 31 delegates went through passport control at Ben Gurion airport in Israel with no hassles.  Except for me.

I am a U.S. citizen, and yet I was questioned by four different airport officers.

Racial profiling?  My name is Amal Othman, my country of birth is Jordan, and my parents are Palestinian refugees. I handed my American passport to the young Israeli officer and right away, she asked me for my father’s full name. Without any hesitation, she got up out of her booth, and said: “follow me”. I took a deep breath, smiled, and walked behind her. I was so relieved when I noticed Mike (one of IFPB leaders) walking right next to me. We were escorted to a waiting area, and it did not take long before I was called in for questioning.

What is your father’s full name? What is your mother’s full name? Where were they born? What is your “hamoula” (clan) name? How old are they? Where do they live now? Have you been to Israel before? Do you have family here? Why did you come here? With whom? How did you become a U.S. citizen? And the questions continued. 

I was then taken to a different waiting area, with lots of other people, mostly Arabs, a Turkish couple, and an Asian woman. We, Mike and I, waited for a while, perhaps 15 minutes or so. I was then called by another officer who took me to a different room, questioned me again, same exact questions.

The scenario repeated itself four times, like a broken record.

The Israeli officers were trying to find records of my parents and their family history. I learned later that the Israeli government has kept records of every Palestinian family, village, city, land and olive trees. They were searching for my status to determine if I pose a threat to Israel as a refugee returning to reclaim ownership of Palestinian property or if any of my family participated in the Arab revolt of 1936. 

My parents were not found in their database! It was just a game of inconvenience. I stayed calm, polite and cooperative. After an hour or so, I was granted entry.

I am grateful for all the support, love, and prayers I have been receiving every step of the way from the wonderful people with me on this delegation.

-- Amal Othman

Via Dolorosa

Our guide, Said, points out the colorful playground equipment behind a heavy metal fence.  It’s a building owned by Jewish Israeli settlers.   Then he points to a fortified guard station and says the children are escorted in and out by armed security. 

We are walking in a Muslim Palestinian neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Pairs of young Israeli soldiers patrol the streets armed with M16s.  A small police car carefully maneuvers past us and through the narrow streets. 

We pass a sign on a stone wall that honors an Israeli settler who was killed on this spot.  Said explains that the house across the street was seized as punishment and is occupied now by an Israeli police station.  There is another house nearby that has been seized and turned into a Jewish Yeshiva, or school of law.  An armed guard stands at the entrance. 

Said calls our attention to the small police stations established near these seized properties; there is a big sign out front that reads “POLICE.”

The front doors of most of the homes are very colorful.  The few plain brown ones stand out.  They are made differently, “strong like a safe,” says Said.  They are the entrances to Jewish homes in the midst of this Muslim community.  We see a blue star on the outer wall. 

Said tells us to find the security cameras mounted high above the street to protect these Israeli homes.  Of the Palestinian homes we learn that ten have been demolished in the past couple of weeks.  We see new construction though --- the stones are paler and more uniform than the old Palestinian homes which were destroyed to make room for them.  

Police and guards; stones and cameras; fences and safe doors; new buildings and commemorative plaques.  They have a special presence along our walk in the Muslim Quarter. 

How would they be viewed by a Palestinian Muslim, I wonder.  As symbols of a military state?  Or as threat? 

What do they represent to a Jewish Israeli woman?  Security, perhaps? 

I am a Christian woman, and I sense great fear.  There are so many signs of threatened violence. 

As we walk, we are passing the Stations of the Cross. These are symbols from my Christian tradition that show where Jesus walked and carried a cross on which he would be hanged and killed.  It is the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Suffering.  The suffering and the fear continue.  

-- Janet Chisholm

Itamar: From Soldier to Peace Activist

Itamar met us as we finished talking with B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, and he hopped on our bus to guide us on a tour of some of the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. 

A fit-looking young man with a buzz cut, he introduced himself as an Israeli, born and brought up near Haifa in a family heavily committed to service in the Israeli military, and as a member of Combatants for Peace.

During the tour, Itamar imparted to us his understanding of the history of the State of Israel, and how all along the way there have been two narratives – one which grew out of the Jewish and Israeli experience, and an entirely different interpretation of the same events which grew out of the Palestinian experience.

When the tour was over and the sun had gone down, we were on our way back to our hotel and someone asked Itamar to tell us more about his own journey. 

He said that when the Second Intifada began, he was halfway through his obligatory tour of duty in the Israeli military.  His unit was assigned to go to Palestinian homes and arrest men who were thought to have been involved in killing Israeli soldiers or civilians.  He believed in the righteousness and the necessity of those arrests, but he could not help seeing himself through the eyes of the children as they watched their fathers being taken away.  And, he said, the situations often got “messy.”

Sometime he and his unit were shot at, and they shot back, until one day there were five people dead before they left with their prisoner.  Itamar knew enough about the cycle of vengeance to know deep in his gut that what they had just done was not going to make his country safer.  The more he thought about it, the surer he became that he could no longer go out and do harm to anyone.

It was not an easy path from soldier to peace activist, but he feels strongly that the work he’s doing now is a more helpful way of fighting for the peace and security of his country.

-- Linda Bronstein


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