Ben Gurion Airport: ‘Welcome to Israel’

‘Welcome to Israel’, reads the big sign. ‘Shit, before I know it, I’ll spend the night at Ramle prison, awaiting deportation’, I think. The past few days, Aazem called me to inform me who was denied entry and deported. ‘At the office people wonder whether you’ll be allowed in’, he says. Since I always receive a ‘special treatment’ from airport security the chances were high that my visit to Palestine would not be appreciated. In recent months, numerous human rights activists, delegations, journalists and humanitarian aid workers from local and international organizations have been denied entry.

Personally, I don’t like borders or bounderies. I dislike fences and walls. I particularly dislike airport checks, in particular, since they are biased to anybody that even looks like an Arab. ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’, they usually say, ‘it’s for your own security’. Mostly after humiliating procedures, questions that do not have any relevance to security, neither of your own nor of other passengers. ‘Could you please take off your shoes?’ the security officer (‘I am from airport security’) asks me politely. ‘You can go to this room’, he says, ‘it’s more private’. In the case I need to be humiliated I prefer to be humiliated in front of other passengers. ‘No thanks, I can do it here on the spot’, I replied.

Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in order to reach re-re-re-re-occupied Palestine is not a pleasant experience. The big sign ‘Welcome to Israel’ covers up the expulsion, ethnic cleansing and looting that happened here almost 54 years ago. Perhaps passengers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport should be told the truth about the place where they land and receive their three-months ‘visit’ permit.

On July 13, 1948, Israeli troops forcefully expelled the entire population of 70,000 Palestinian men, women and children. Systematic looting followed. The fact that these places were allocated to the Palestinian state, according to the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, did not prevent this ethnic cleansing operation.

Two American news correspondents witnessed what happened in the ensuing assault. Keith Wheeler of the Chicago Sun Times wrote that ‘practically everything in their way died. Riddled corpses lay by the roadside.’ Kenneth Bilby of the New York Herald Tribune wrote that he saw ‘the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge.’

The residents of Lydda, the area where now Ben Gurion airport is located, were promised that if they congregated in mosques and churches they would be safe. Israeli soldiers turned their wrath at those cowering in mosques and churches, killing scores of them in Dahmash mosque alone. Palestinians venturing from their homes were also shot and killed. At least 250 Palestinians from Lydda were killed and many others wounded.

That same day, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered all the Palestinians expelled. The order said: ‘The residents of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age.’ It was signed by Lieutenant Colonel Yitzhak Rabin, operations chief of the Lydda-Ramleh attack and later Israel’s military chief of staff and its prime minister in 1974-77 and again in 1992 until he was assassinated after incitement by right-wing politicians in 1995.

In 1978, Yzhar Smilansky (aka S. Yizhar) wrote in his ‘Tale of Hirbet Hiza’, about his experiences as a young Israeli intelligence officer who witnessed the expulsion. He wrote:

‘We came, shot, burned. Blew up, pushed and exiled. Will the walls not scream in the ears of those who will live in this village?’

I wonder whether the young Israeli woman in police uniform at the desk ‘foreign passports’ knows what happened on the spot where she decides about the fate of a visitor.

‘Do you have relatives in Israel?’ she asked me. Since my family lives in Nablus and Ramallah I answer, ‘no’. Fortunately, I was lucky. Earlier this month, Israeli officials denied entry to Eva, a Swedish lawyer and Victoria (‘Vicky’) Metcalfe, a British citizen, who were on their way to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. Vicky was detained for more than ten hours in a holding cell at the airport before being sent back to the United Kingdom.

Eva was sent back only one and a half hours after her arrival. She was interrogated, denied entry and immediately put back on the same KLM flight she came with. In Holland, KLM is a known facilitator of deportation. In Holland, every year some two thousand refugees and immigrants are deported, using various methods of constraint, including handcuffs and straitjackets and sedative injections. The KLM provides transport for the vast majority of these deportations.

More and more ‘foreigners’, including of Palestinian descent, are denied entry into Palestine. Reports from local and international organizations and individuals prove that Israeli authorities in recent months have escalated the practice of denying entry to foreign human rights workers, activists and journalists. The deportation policy is part of an overall policy of obstructing internationals from witnessing, collecting evidence and communicating to the international community about Israeli violations of human rights.

A day before I arrived, Israel’s district court decided to deport Darlene Wallach, an American citizen and Josie Sandercock, a British citizen, who were detained last month on June 1, in Balata refugee camp near Nablus along with six other humanitarian workers. Five of them were immediately deported. Sandercock, Wallach and a Japanese citizen, Makoto Hibbino, remained behind to contest the decision. Hibbino returned to Japan before the district court’s decision.

They were acting as human shields in Balata refugee camp providing protection for Palestinian refugees against Israeli soldiers and were escorting ambulances through Israeli checkpoints. Since March, Israel has deported 120 foreigners, and more than two hundred have been denied entry. Eighteen, including seventeen American citizens were sent back to the United States last Tuesday. According to Israel’s Interior Ministry, last week, Israel’s deportation policy of visitors, introduced in March and recently intensified, denied entry to thirty-five visitors.

Obviously, the move of the ‘B2 VISIT PERMIT’ stamp on my visa form offered me some relief. I grabbed my luggage and took a taxi passing military jeeps, tanks, walls and fences, entering the West Bank, to finally reach ‘home’.

- picture shows Palestinians walk past an Israeli armored personnel carrier during a partial lifting of the Israeli military curfew in Ramallah, Wednesday, July 3, 2002. (AP Photo/John Moore)