The Electronic Intifada Ramallah, Palestine 8 January 2002
I had a more exciting New Year Eve!
I am sorry I am sending you best wishes for the New Year rather late. The reason is because I had to spend my New Year night in a detention cell at Tel Aviv’s Lod or Ben Gurion airport. Then I was deported to where I flew from.
The episode started upon arrival at Tel Aviv airport at around 4pm on December 31st, looking forward to the party for New Year’s Eve at a friend’s gathering in Ramallah. We had just spent two weeks in Switzerland, with my wife’s family, mostly to get away for a while from our situation in the Occupied Palestinian territories.
After presenting my Palestinian travel document at the arrival counter, I was led to the security passport control office. Some other Palestinians were also waiting there and they mentioned that they are sending Palestinians back. When my turn came I asked to see a more senior officer and demanded an explanation. The intelligence officer said there are new instructions from the government to refuse entry to Palestinians, unless they had prior permits to fly or return through the Israeli airport. Lod airport has been the only possible exit and entry for Palestinians in the last few years since the ‘peace process’ started. Of course, it is practically impossible for Palestinians to get such permits from the Sharon government at present. They told me I had to go back to where I came from (I said I came from Acre, or Akka/Akko, where I was born, before the state of Israel was born, but they did not seem to appreciate that.)
Ramallah is only 40 kilometers away, I argued, and that I am too old to be a terrorist, and that I work and teach at Birzeit University, and that I have been ‘cleared’ by Israel as a ‘returnee’. I also asked why not let me fly to Amman at least, or somewhere nearer like Cyprus, at my expense?
And I asked why take such measures now at a time when ‘violence’ is down and international mediation is active again? Or does it mean that the Israeli government is no longer abiding by the post-Oslo agreements, notably the recognition of the Israeli-approved Palestinian passport?
To no avail.
I was escorted to a detention cell at the airport, but not before I was submitted with my luggage to the meticulous search of everything I had. The room was a really lousy place, about 4 by 4 meters, containing six double- deck beds, with plastic mattresses and dirty woolen blankets. It had two small high windows through which we could hear the continuous thundering noise and hissing of the machines working the luggage belts and the shouts of their workers. To go to the toilets, we had to wait before another security guard was called to escort us to another filthy place. A dry sandwich, which I wouldn’t touch, was handed to us later. Needless to say, we couldn’t sleep all night.
I had one companion in the room, a 30ish guy from the Czech Republic by the name of Vaclav, like Havel. He spent the night telling me, in broken English, about magic, cosmic energy, Atlantis, the Pyramids, infinity, MULUC, and that this is his 6026th year of incarnation. He was taking his ordeal so confidently that I thought I will have to look into this New Age stuff some day.
The second very entertaining thing in the airport prison was all the graffiti on the walls. The 3 languages I could read represented about 10% of all the scribbling, but it gave an idea of the humanity that passed through this room and how they felt. Here is a sampling, although some of the “anti-Semitic” writings and offensive drawings could not be reproduced freely.
John Mercer from Miami, USA: Denied entry due to the paranoid delusions of the security people in this SHIT HOLE because I carry a laptop PC. They think I am a spy!! They took my bags, my computer, and to top it all off I lost $1000 coming here. NEVER AGAIN!!!
ISRAEL IS NOT PROMISED LAND
ISRAEL IS FUCKING LAND
In French: “I was here the 13-12-2000. My name is I.C. I am Malien. I thank God the all powerful for locking me between these four walls. It must be part of my deserved destiny”
“WE ARE HUNGRY”
“Welcome to hotel ***** Israel”
In Arabic: “Every one who thinks of dealing with Israel is an ass son of an ass. Israel is the ultimate evil. I am from Lebanon”
“I came all the way from Baltimore USA and all I saw was this damn room. Mosi, June 3, 2001.”
The next morning at 5am, I was taken out hastily, not without threats to keep me for another week in this hole, simply because I suggested they should at least have a more decent detention place. I was taken to the airport tarmac by two security guards in a police car, with two African women from an adjacent room. I was delivered into the airplane and my passport and papers handed to the captain. It was also difficult to sleep on the flight to Milano. At Malpensa airport I was escorted also by a police car to the terminal where a higher Italian officer told me I am free to go, probably thanks to my Swiss passport.
It will be for me, for a long time to come, a most memorable New Year’s Eve, and food for thought.
Endnote: Ghassan finally was able to return to Ramallah by flying to Amman and crossing back to the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge. He had to leave books and other publications he wished to bring back to the country because the weight of the luggage he would have to carry travelling by the land border.
Ghassan Abdullah is information systems analyst in the Institute of Law of Birzeit University.