Ben Gurion

Leyla Doss

For many living abroad, the journey home comes with joy and excitement to reunite with loved ones. But that’s not always the case for everyone, as some have to go through some of the most humiliating and anxiety-inducing journeys of their lives just to visit home.

Transcript

This is Telling True Stories in Sound, I’m Leyla Doss. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JALAL 1: They were just opening the contents of my wallet. 

ROULA 1: I also bought some foods in the airport. 

JALAL 2: Even one time I had my small JBL portable speaker 

FIRAS 1:  And then he asks about what does my mother do? My mother does this. What does your dad do? My dad does this. Or what about your sister?

ROULA 2: I think it was like a box of sushi or something.

AMIRA 1: they took my laptop, they x- rayed it multiple times. 

DALIA 1: They search in between your toes, they search your clothes, inside my bra, they search everything in my bag, my headphones, my pencils, any piece of paper in my bag. 

FIRAS 2: Then he starts asking me, why am I going home? 

JALAL 3: And there were condoms in my in my wallet. And my parents were just around me. And I felt that was embarrassing. 

DOSS 1: So, you arrive at the airport, like any trip, excited and anxious before the journey, looking forward to going home. What did you pack? What did you forget to pack? Will your family be there to greet you at the airport when you arrive? 

But this is no ordinary trip. For Palestinians –  flying home to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and back – it never is. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROULA 3: the moment they see my passport, or they see like my name on any documents in the airport, you know, immediately they know that I’m Palestinian, and then then, their attitude, you know, changes 100 180 degrees. 

JALAL 4: we’ve become the veterans of extreme security checks at airports that when we, when we go to other airports internationally, we don’t feel like it’s unusual, we don’t feel it’s extreme or anything. 

HAYA 1: She went back and forth to her boss // they were like chatting about me like laughing and she would come back to me and, and ask me in a very humiliating attitude //  it’s like I’m lying to her. 

DOSS 2: I spoke with six Palestinian citizens and permanent residents of Israel … to try to understand what this process of homecoming feels like. And all shared a version of the same story. A specific kind of tension, a specific kind of humiliation… one that always ends in running to their gate, no matter how early they made it to check in. 

In some ways you can prepare for it. The treatment is so consistently cruel that you know what to expect. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMIRA 2: Nothing about travelling back home is simple and straightforward for us.  When I pack I have to think about // my phone, my laptop… 

DOSS 3: That’s Amira. She’s from Nazareth. A city that’s mostly Palestinian in Israel. And she’s not alone in feeling singled out when she travels home from abroad. 

JALAL 5:  I often do not carry my laptop with me because I feel like // I’d rather have things that wouldn’t get their attention. 

DALIA 2: Even some conversations on WhatsApp // friends sending me footage from protests. 

DOSS 4: You always have to be one. two. Or even three steps ahead. And that might mean NOT bringing that looks Palestinian in your luggage. 

HAYA 2: I just started to put a list, almost a checklist, of how can I avoid conversations and one of them is not listening to Arab music, not bringing any, any Arab novels with me..

(SOUND: Amr Diab’s Habibi Ya Nour El Ein)

ROULA 3 : the kuffiyah or even like I have this like scarf that has like Palestinian tatreez on it. 

DALIA 2: Or like a bracelet // anything with a Palestinian symbol, I was too scared to take. 

DOSS 5: And even with all that, the process still isn’t easy. Palestinian citizens of Israel carry Israeli passports. They make up about 1.9 million or 20 percent of Israel. Most of them live in majority-Palestinian cities in Israel. They can vote. AND They can also fly directly to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Permanent residents – usually Palestinians from Jerusalem –  also can fly through there. Meanwhile, all other Palestinians can’t legally do so. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOSS 6: But despite this, Palestiian citizens and permanent residents of Israel are second-class citizens. They face over 70 discriminatory laws, according to the UN and Human Rights Watch. This can mean interrogations at check-in lines. Second or third security checks. 

Being strip searched. Detained. Adding two. Three. Four hours to any trip. Sometimes more. And it can mean being taken to secluded interrogation rooms – like one Amira was taken to one during a trip in her early twenties. 

AMIRA 3: They’re like, “we’ll be back soon.” I’m like, “how long is it going to be?” they’re like, “we don’t know, as long as it has to take.”

DOSS 7: They took her shoes. All of her belongings. And left her alone in a tiny secluded six by six ft room. And not a single camera in sight. 

AMIRA 4: Alone, without a phone, without any like access to any outside world. I remember even thinking if I yelled, nobody would hear me because we were like, in a completely separate, like, structure from the rest of the airport. 

DOSS 8: At that moment it felt like time had stopped for her. She remembered all the experiences she heard about in the news. Or from her friends and family members who went through similar experiences. 

AMIRA 5: And I was thinking, am I going to see my parents again? Am I going to see my family again? 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOSS 9: But no matter how much they try to hide their identity, there is an entire system in place to make sure it’s known. All security officers know that they’re of Palestinian origin at every step of the way. 

(SOUND: Scanner)

DOSS 10: The thing is – everyone gets a barcode sticker on their passport.  It starts with a number. From 0 to 6. Ranging from least to highest threat. 0 is usually given to Americans, Europeans, or Jewish Israelis. Especially if they’re white. But Palestinians almost always get a six. That means they’re seen as the highest threat to national security. 

Everyone else can lie anywhere in-between. And for Palestinians – EVEN their luggage is sometimes tagged with different color stickers. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOSS 11: If all of this sounds exaggerated, or hard to understand… Let me introduce you to Yasmine. 

Yasmine is just a doll. The kind any child might have. In this case, she belonged to Amira. And Yasmine was special. 

AMIRA 5: Yasmine was like my everything. 

AMIRA 6: She woke up with me in the morning // I would comb her hair // And whenever we would go like even to the supermarket, I would take her with me. She was like my best friend. 

DOSS 12: That’s it. The love of a six year old towards her favorite doll. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOSS 13 In 1995, Amira’s family lived in Europe, and flew back to Palestine to see relatives. And one time – at Tel Aviv airport – officers at security check put Yasmine through the x-ray machine. 

They then took her away for further inspection. Amira’s heart sank. She started crying. Her dad is furious. And argued back with the officer. 

AMIRA 7: they actually took like a scissors or a knife //  and they cut her open. They just sliced a thing through her like, lesion through her like stomach and open her stomach up. 

DOSS 14: It was a massacre. Pieces of cotton started falling out of Yasmine’s belly and onto the floor. 

AMIRA 8: So obviously my whole world has collapsed now and I’m just crying.. My mom is holding me. 

DOSS 15: They told her dad they had to inspect the doll to see if there was a bomb inside. And later on, Amira’s grandmother stitched Yasmine’s belly together. 

AMIRA 9: [Sigh] And I was able to move on with my life as a five, six year old but I will never forget that never ever in my life. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOSS 16:  How could she. The message was clear enough for a six year old to understand. She was a stranger in her own home. 

AMIRA 10: This is not a tourist thing. You’re not visiting some exotic location // No, This is your home, this is your grandparents. This is your yard. This is your olive tree, this is your orange tree, this is your mint, this is everything. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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