Before I traveled, I had heard many stories of people being denied entry because of their online activities, so I had “unfollowed” influential activists on Twitter. I searched through my photos on Facebook, even deleting my cover photo of me with two Arab friends, knowing that it would just lead to questions.
I always censored what I wrote and shared online in an effort to ensure I could enter Israel to visit friends. I have tweeted about US drone killings of civilians in Yemen, police shooting protesters on the streets of Cairo and death sentences in China.
Yet, when it came to Israel and its constant violations of dignity and rights, I was silent. Nearly unique in its ability to foster self-censorship, both domestically and abroad, Israel made me feel like I had to keep my criticism private in an attempt to ensure I could enter the country.
This invisible force is felt by everyone who might question the status quo. Inside Israel, teachers have been threatened with dismissal for their “left-wing” views and journalists detained for doing their jobs, while foreign passport holders are regularly denied entry and banned because of their work or activism.
These stories and the warnings they brought with them filtered down and eventually resulted in stopping me from posting 140 characters on a website just so that I could still enter the country.
This subconscious self-censorship extends beyond those who are familiar with the Palestinian struggle. Invariably, every time I share a critical story or post on my private Facebook account, I receive a phone call from my parents a day or two later expressing their concern that I might be harming my future job prospects if these posts became public.
The fear of criticizing Israel or the larger Zionist movement has led to caution from my parents, not just to ensure access at the Israeli-controlled borders, but to ensure full access to opportunities in normal, everyday life here in the UK.
They have never shared the same concerns when a post is critical of Britain or the US.
This silence was always difficult for me and led to many debates about whether my choice was really the right one. In thirty years’ time, would I feel comfortable telling my kids that I didn’t speak up about these injustices, just so I could enjoy a holiday in Israel?
Silence in response to aggression only helps the aggressor. It allows the aggression to continue unchallenged by individuals, by the media and by governments. When the BBC decided not to air an emergency charity appeal for Gaza while it was under Israeli attack in early 2009, most British people remained silent.
When the majority remains silent, those who speak up can be cast as extremists, so unreasonable that they should just be ignored. Every week as the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) grows, those in favor of boycotting Israel are invariably characterized as radical outsiders and, often worse, anti-Semitic or violent.
Israel has been extremely successful in making people all over the world feel they cannot express their discomfort, let alone their outrage, at the actions being perpetrated in Palestine. Reminiscent of the Thought Police in George Orwell’s 1984, the reach of Israel’s censorship by proxy has spread globally and affects everyone, ensuring people are silent and so allowing Israel to continue oppressing with impunity.
After twenty hours of detention and questioning on 9 April, I was denied entry to Israel and deported. The Israeli authorities told me they took this action for “security reasons” but would not elaborate.
My silence was a selfish silence but one that was indirectly encouraged and enforced by Israel to further achieve its aims.
The need to self-censor that I felt was necessary did not help me nor allow me to enter the country and will not help the Palestinians in their struggle.
Tristan Thomas is a final year undergraduate studying politics and economics at Cardiff University in Wales who has studied Arabic and travelled throughout the Middle East. He also helps run Cardiff Student Action for Refugees, a group working and campaigning with asylum-seekers and refugees in the city. Follow him on Twitter: @bytristanthomas