Israeli Discrimination: Beyond Borders

As much as I try to avoid it, the situation inevitably arises from time to time. If I tell people that traveling with my children is a nightmare, most mothers in particular would probably nod their heads understandingly, thinking I am referring to keeping two wayward children under control on an international flight. While that has also been an issue with me like most other mothers, this is not the "nightmare" to which I am referring.

To put it in a nutshell, I cannot leave the country with my two children –” aged 10 and 7 –” from the same borders. As crazy as this sounds, it is true, courtesy of Israel’s complicated and discriminatory system of ID cards among Palestinians. I am one of thousands of people who fall between the cracks –” stuck between two oppressive Israeli sets of restrictions for travelling Palestinians, the result of which is that mother and children cannot travel together across Israeli borders.

My two kids were born in Jerusalem (a prerequisite for their eligibility to become Jerusalem residents). I was born in the United States. After the Oslo Accords were signed and the PA made its grand entrance into the West Bank and Gaza, I was also afforded a West Bank Palestinian passport since I had been living in Ramallah for over a decade. When I married, I came to Jerusalem with one Palestinian ID card, one American passport and the hope that Israel would somehow grant me family reunification with my husband, therefore transforming my green (Palestinian ID) to the more coveted blue Jerusalem ID. Of course, this did not happen overnight. To be exact, it took 11 years after which I still have not been granted a Jerusalem ID card but rather a one-year residency permit in Jerusalem (renewable upon security check every 12 months). To travel across checkpoints between Jerusalem and the West bank, I must always carry my permit, which allows me (after a fingerprint check) to cross into the city.

But back to my issue with traveling. Israel bans Palestinians (with Palestinian Authority ID cards) from traveling through its Ben Gurion Airport. On rare occasions, a special permit is given to Palestinians to travel via the airport, but usually only in cases of serious medical conditions. Even then, the process is lengthy and is not guaranteed. You may be given an answer about whether a permit has been issued or not mere hours before your flight; in some cases, even afterwards.

Palestinians, therefore, must leave the country through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge. My children, given that they have neither a Jordanian nor a Palestinian passport, cannot travel from Jordan. I of course, cannot travel from Ben Gurion. So, this is what we do when their father, the original Jerusalemite, is not traveling with us. The first time, I was taking my then much younger kids to the United States to issue them US passports. My father (who only has US citizenship) flew them out of Ben Gurion and met me later that night in Jordan (after I crossed the bridge earlier that day). On the way back, I had my sister, who is also only an American citizen, meet me in Jordan to take the kids back with her to Tel Aviv’s airport. I crossed the bridge the second day.

The occasion has arisen once more. I am to fly to Geneva with the two of them in a few days. This time, there is no one to take them out of the country and I do not have the luxury of time to try and convince the Israelis to give me a permit to fly out of the airport. Hence, I am sending them on a flight alone from Ben Gurion (with an escort from the airline) and will meet up with them in Europe. The same goes for their return trip. I, of course, will have the much less enviable task of crossing the bridge to Jordan.

Mine are not the only woes in regards to traveling via Israeli borders. Internationals (especially pro-Palestinian) run the risk of being stamped with a one-month or even one-week visa –” or worse, being turned back at the border altogether. Palestinians from Jerusalem and inside Israel are harassed, strip searched and humiliated by Israeli security personnel at the airport, sometimes missing their flight because of the hours-long interrogations. At the Allenby Crossing, Israeli border personnel are known to take people into the "room" where they hold them for hours, interrogate them on where and why they are coming to the country, only to send them packing back to Jordan. No one is immune either. High profile personalities such as Noam Chomsky have been returned at the Allenby Bridge and others such as Norman Finkelstein have been given a five-year ban at Ben Gurion, stamped clearly on their US passports.

Israel’s security checks, whether at internal checkpoints inside Palestine or at their international borders are infamously grueling and oftentimes just plain ridiculous. Questions such as "do you have any weapons?" or "did you pack your own bags?" are ones that have obvious answers, at least to those who know Israel’s security paranoia. Other questions are equally as ridiculous –” "Do you know any Palestinians?", or worse yet if you say you are traveling to Jerusalem, "Do you know any Arabs there?"

In my case, it is not the hassle or the harassment of Israeli security that irks me the most. Our skins have thickened after so many years of enduring such questioning. What disturbs me to no end is the fact that mother and children are not allowed to travel together, that the racist system of segregation Israel has imposed upon Palestinians living under its occupation has been allowed to continue unabated. Freedom of movement, democracy and family unity are principles that Israel may very well embrace, at least for Jewish Israelis. Such things are obviously not for us.