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Terrorist at the Airport

Every Palestinian citizen of Israel who has traveled abroad has similar stories of the Israeli security at the airport. All stories share a common thread: feelings of humiliation as the number 5 or, in a worse case, the number 6 is stuck to the passport; receiving special treatment because we answer “no” when asked if we served the army; our bags being thoroughly searched through, our most private items being flaunted in front of everybody, and a security “express lane” especially for us, because we constitute a security “threat.”

I was accepted to the 2009/2010 Isis – Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange Program Institute on documentation of violations of human rights. How ironic. Participants were asked to bring with them their traditional dress and their country/national flags. I don’t own a traditional Palestinian dress, but I have two kufiyyas, which I couldn’t take with me, as the black-and-white Palestinian kufiyya has become a symbol of terrorism. That would have won me extra-special treatment at the airport, with my own escort and a seat at the very back of the plane – as far as possible from the pilot.

As for the Palestinian flag – that would be even worse, being caught with the flag of the “enemy.” I have a small pouch with the Palestinian flag hand-stitched on its front. I turned the pouch inside out, stuffed it with a couple of sanitary pads, and hoped it would escape being noticed.

I arrived at the airport four hours before my scheduled flight, as I wanted to spend some time in the duty free shops. If lucky, I’d only get the number 5. These numbers indicate the degree of security threat passengers pose. I stood in line and tried to guess the numbers each passenger would get. In front of me, an older couple with large red suitcases waited their turn. Their looks betrayed their Ashkenazi background. I made a mental note to myself: number 1. I then turned my attention to a young Thai man with long hair and a bulking backpack. He’d get a number 5 at least. Young tourists and volunteers usually get a number 5 or, at best a number 4.

A young woman in a uniform approaches me and, with a polite smile, asks me in English, “Do you speak Hebrew?” I smile back at her, “Of course,” keeping the is it that obvious I am an Arab to myself. She opens my passport and, squinting at my name, I can tell she’s struggling to get it right. “Kalud?”
“Khulud,” I correct her. They’re not allowed to ask straight if I’m an Arab or what my religion is. in the past, they’d ask questions such as which holidays do we celebrate at home and to which school one went. They’ve changed their tactics lately, “What’s the origin of your name?” I guess this question is much more straight-forward and it saves some time. And there is no way around it; with the holidays, I used to say that we don’t celebrate any. Here the only answer is “Arabic.” I search for an elusive answer, and within seconds come up with a good one, “It’s the name my family gave me.”

“Did you served in the army, the police, or anything similar?” And my “no” immediately earns me a number 5 – the “almost terrorist” status.

From then on, I received special treatment. The number 5 gave me a “handle with care” status at every stage. After my luggage was X-rayed, I was motioned to a stand where a very polite young lady searched through my belongings. My lap-top and camera were taken away to be processed in a special device. My luggage was meticulously searched for suspicious items. I stood there waiting, the security persons whispering some things to each other, checking their paperwork, while all the light-skinned passengers passed straight to the check-in without a second glance. All dark-skinned were sent to this special line to have their luggage searched.

When they were finished with me, I went to check in, and then proceeded to the next stage, where only passengers are allowed. I already know the drill, so I showed the woman my passport with my number 5 sticker and she immediately motioned me to my own special lane, which was empty of passengers. Five security persons were waiting for me. I didn’t wait for them to ask me if I had a laptop, and I took it out of my backpack and handed it to them. My backpack was put on the X-ray belt, and it entered the black box. Two men stood behind the computer screen, and for a whole minute they scrutinized the insides of my backpack. Meanwhile, I went through the metal-detecting machine, and it beeped. I took off my watch, and went back through. Again I beeped. “Do you have any coins in your pockets?” I said I didn’t, and then remembered, “I have metal bars in my bra.” Two of them looked at each other, a bit embarrassed. I was asked to take off my shoes and my body was searched by a woman. They then asked for my camera, chargers and cables. It took ten more minutes for me to get out of there. And with that, my humiliation ended. Now I braced myself for the return trip, which I knew would be much worse, since I was flying with EL-Al.

[My adventures with the security on my return trip will be posted next time]

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Comments

JaniceW's picture

5 security persons for number 5s

Khulud,
I cannot imagine the humiliation suffered for being nothing other than yourself. To be reduced to a number just because of your circumstances of birth is disturbing to me. I am assuming you were travelling through an Israeli airport and find it ironic that a people who settled on this land because of persecution for being born of a certain heritage, are the very ones who are "marking" others.

Your stories of daily life in Palestine are so vital as they shed light on a world that is often told from one angle. We need women such as yourself to continue to speak out so that the marginalized, the oppressed, the victims and the unheard have a voice in the world's media. Thank you for sharing this encounter with us and I wish you all the best for the return journey. Oh, and please share with us your experiences from the conference which sounds very interesting.

Best wishes,
Janice

Nusrat Ara's picture

Dear Khulud, I can understand

Dear Khulud,

I can understand your pain and suffering. We Kashmiri's are looked at with suspicion anywhere outside our state. I would love to read about ur return journey as well.

Keep the faith.

Love

Nusrat

jadefrank's picture

airports

Dear Khulud,

Thank you for sharing this story with us... for clearly painting the picture of how simple seeming activities in the daily life of a Palestinian can be so difficult and unfair. To be profiled as a terrorist simply because of your name, your language or your religion is unfathomable, especially, as Janice mentioned, from a group who have persecuted through history for similar reasons. By sharing your experience, you've given me more understanding of the situation there. Thank you, and looking forward to reading about your return trip. I wish you safe journeys.

Have you met Arda? She's also Palestinian and writes passionately about her experiences in Jerusalem as a minority. http://www.worldpulse.com/user/1730

Warm regards,
Jade

efe's picture

about airports

i am sure by now you must have heard about the Nigerian Terrorist who almost bombed a plane. In the past, quite a number of Nigerians were given "special" treatments at airports for suspicion of drug trafficking and the like. Now, no thanks to Abdulmutallab we may henceforth have the added burden of being looked upon as potential terrorists.As sad as that is, it is what honest and hardworking Nigerians have to go through for the crimes commited by their countrymen.

I have chosen to be a good ambassador of my country wherever i find myself. I have chosen to reduce the stigma attached to being identified as a Nigerian by living right. i know you will find ways to show others that love can thrive even amidst such prejudice and distrust

Juana Munoz's picture

same same but different

Dear Khulud,

Your story is terrible, and I guess it's not even a bit of what other pepole must go thruough. Being Colombian I get associated a lot with drug trafficking. It seems that is the only thing most people from aoutside know about my country. My passport, which has to be full of visas for me to get anywhere, is searched for powder. My shoes and hands also. I know the feeling of being set aside in front of all the other passengers and having your luggage waved in front of everyone. Bridget Jones scene with the underware? Been there. And it's terrible!

All my love and best wishes for your return flight!!

Juana

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