“I needed to look “clean,” to look like a nice Jewish lady on a nice visit to the nice country of Israel.” In the final of her reports from Palestine, Pluto author Alice Rothchild writes about preparing to travel through the Kalandia checkpoint and the Israeli airport.
Last night I purged my belongings of almost all evidence that I had been on the West Bank or that I had associated with NGOs or dissidents in Israel. I took the battery out of my camera and hid my memory cards and minidisc cassettes in rolls of socks. I emailed myself all the contact information contained in the many cards people had pressed into my hand. I permanently deleted everything I had written with a handy program called file shredder. When I packed, I strategically placed , “Let’s GO Israel!” on top of all my clothes (which smelled suspiciously of the bags of zetar wrapped in my sweaters). The guide to boycotting settlement products and cards from the Al Rowwad Children’s Theater, were on the bottom, concealed in a bag with shoes. I needed to look “clean,” to look like a nice Jewish lady on a nice visit to the nice country of Israel.
The cab driver picked me up at 3:15 am from a lovely Palestinian friend in Ramallah, a graduate student in the US whose father lost his Palestinian ID during a university sojourn in America. My friend has a US passport and is fighting to get a Palestinian West Bank ID which ironically will make it impossible for him to go to Jerusalem or fly out of Ben Gurion airport, but will guarantee his right to return to his home, family, and friends in Ramallah.
The cab driver (who is from East Jerusalem) said we would avoid Kalandia checkpoint where I would be required to get out and go through security, despite his green license plate, and we circle around and sail through Hizma with a quick shalom. He immediately starts advising me what to say. “Do not say you were in Ramallah. I picked you up at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, you were visiting Jewish friends. Do not say you were in Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqilyia.” He keeps rehearsing the script with me and at the first security check near the airport I stick to the story. I even name my Jewish friends, (pretty good for 4:00 in the morning).
There are multiple security checks within the airport where I could have tripped and ended up with vigorous questioning, various levels of strip searching, and other aggravations. All my Palestinian friends have had to take their clothes off to get out of Israel. I have often been asked to recite a Hebrew prayer, name my synagogue, list Jewish holidays, etc, etc; what I call the incredibly offensive, “Are you Jewish enough to be trusted?” screening. But I was lucky and I had rehearsed my lines: tourism, visiting friends, volunteering with a medical group, smile my nice Jewish smile and say my respectable Jewish last name. I am sure a few gray hairs worked in my favor as well. The intense racial profiling in this country should at least work in my favor here.
And so it was “no problem,” as Palestinians frequently say in moments of extreme disaster. But I am left wondering, what kind of country requires someone like me to scheme and lie in order to leave without being harassed?
Alice Rothchild is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience. She maintains a website at www.alicerothchild.com
Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience
New edition of this unique and honest account of the conflict seen through the eyes of a doctor, with personal accounts that bring the trauma to life.