I am an Italian citizen, born and raised as a member of the German-speaking minority in northern Italy (the relevance of this fact will be apparent later). For the last ten years I have been living in Vienna, Austria where I had been working for an airline (and thus very well aware of security issues) for almost seven years and where I have been studying social and cultural anthropology at Vienna University, specializing in the Middle East and Arabic language.
Earlier this year, on 20 January, I flew for the second time in my life from Vienna via Milan to Tel Aviv and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport. There I was interviewed by the Israeli authorities for five hours because I have studied Arabic in Yemen for a couple of months but was eventually allowed to enter the country with a tourist visa. Due to all this psychological stress and pressure I did not immediately realise that there was no stamp in my passport and I had not filled out any form.
I reported my missing visa and the consular attache there confirmed my suspicion that it was a common practice to do this with people who are suspected of travelling to the West Bank in order to prevent them from crossing the checkpoints
Since I had already registered with the Italian consulate in Jerusalem, I reported also my missing visa and the consular attache there confirmed my suspicion that it was a common practice to do this with people who are suspected of travelling to the West Bank in order to prevent them from crossing the checkpoints. Fortunately, he issued me a paper that stated my personal and travel data and stated that I was in touch with my consulate. This avoided a lot of problems at different checkpoints and demonstrated how Israel tries to get rid of people who in their eyes are dissident.
During the first weeks I stayed with Israeli friends near Tel Aviv. At the airport the security staff wanted to have their addresses and phone numbers; they were checked and since they are probably “good” Israeli citizens I was allowed in.
In February I started my studies at Birzeit University, taking part in the PAS program (Palestine and Arabic studies for international students), mainly to improve my Arabic language skills, but also to learn about Palestinian culture and society and especially to research for my master’s thesis.
I did not request a student visa for attending the university, since Birzeit University recommended not applying for it because Israel does not give any student visas to students of Palestinian universities. It is necessary to also mention that I was not involved in ANY political activities because I did not want to take any risk, especially because of my Palestinian fiance (now my husband) and his family.
After three months I had to leave the country to renew my visa and so I did what a lot of other people do: I went to Jordan. There my troubles began.
I crossed the border on 20 April at King Hussein Bridge with my fiance and two other students from university, an American and a Swiss, both of Palestinian origin, and we went to Amman, not only for the visa renewal but also to enjoy Jordan. We travelled together because of economic reasons, and split up after our arrival in Amman. By coincidence we met each other again on our way back.
But when we tried to re-enter Israel at the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge on 24 April, the American student and I were denied entry by the border security.
What the Israeli border control did was beyond what I could ever imagine what border security for any country would do to a common foreigner requesting permission to enter the country.
I filled in the form, giving my friend in Hod HaSharon as a reference. The woman at passport control was nice to me until she saw that I had travelled to Yemen (now I know how silly it was to go through Israeli-controlled border crossings with a Yemeni visa). I explained her that I was already checked for five hours during my first entry but she did not care and I had to wait the first hours on a chair just there in front of the immigration counter for the “security check” while a female guard frequently came to me, requesting information about my family and friends and their contact information as well as other information I cannot recall.
After about four hours of waiting a male guard came to me and took me to a back office behind a locked door and it was the first time I was offered something to drink. I was told to turn off my mobile.
I was worried about my fiance and the others outside because they did not know what was going on (at that time I did not know that the American student was also kept). I had to wait some more time and after about one hour I was asked to enter another room that was locked and I was there alone with three men. The one behind the desk interviewed me again about family and friends, but also about my contacts in Palestine. I tried to give as little information as possible because I did not want to cause any trouble for my Palestinian friends. I told them that they could call my friend in Hod HaSharon which would confirm that I used to stay with her and her husband, that I am just a normal student and they could also tell them further details if needed, but they did not call.
They asked me what the streets of Hod HaSharon look like, in which relation I stay with my Israeli friends and a lot of other things.
They spoke with me in Arabic to find out how well I speak the language. They wanted to know everything about Yemen, if I have ever had contacts with people “interesting” to them, why I study Arabic and not Hebrew, and so on
I also told them that I’ve already been to Israel and the Territories last year with a half-Palestinian friend visiting his family in Eastern Jerusalem. Although he is of Austrian nationality they wanted to know all his contact details and everything about his family. They spoke with me in Arabic to find out how well I speak the language. They wanted to know everything about Yemen, if I have ever had contacts with people “interesting” to them, why I study Arabic and not Hebrew, and so on.
Very interesting were the questions about my origin. They tried to provoke me regarding my status as a minority and asked questions about my opinion on separatism tendencies.
Since they did not find out anything I had to wait outside the room for some more hours. Then they sent another man asking the same questions again, but in a way that fathers tend to talk to their daughters. Since he was unsuccessful they started to insult me — I was called a prostitute because of having a relationship with a Palestinian.
I am sure we were spied on in Jordan since me and my fiance pretended (due to cultural reasons) that we were married. I was asked by the security at least five times if I was married and my fiance, who had to report with the Jordanian secret service in Amman, was asked the same question as well a couple of times. Since we were not married yet we answered the question obviously with NO but it seems that they did not believe us.
The interrogators kept themselves anonymous but due to previous experiences and their behaviour it was obvious that they were from the secret service.
After the interrogation they made me sit for hours in a kind of kitchen for employees, no one told me what was going on, they wanted to refuse me use of the restrooms (where I secretly could finally reach my fiance telling him that I was ok, and my consulate in Jerusalem) and while sitting there alone there was just a cleaner cleaning the floor. No one was there to tell me anything.
After some more hours, it was eight in total, someone came and asked me to pick up my luggage (which was basically a water pipe I bought as a souvenir in Amman and a small rucksack with some clothes I needed during these few days in Jordan) and they brought me back to the immigration counter. There it was the first time after all these hours I saw my American colleague again and he told me that he was not allowed to re-enter, but nobody told me what was going on.
Two security people just took me and brought me to a car. I asked a couple of times what was going on, but still no one told me. After asking the fourth or fifth time, “Where are you bringing me?” their answer was, “Back to Jordan”
I was denied entry into the country and I was deported back to Jordan.
The Israelis did not give us a reason why we were denied entry but swiftly ushered my friend and me into a car that would take us back to the Jordanian border. Our passports were stamped with “entery [sic] denied” and therefore useless for any further travel, not only to Israel and the Arab world but also to most other countries who will find it suspicious if someone is not allowed back to Israel anymore.
Since we were just kicked out of the car on the other side of the river Jordan, not holding a valid Jordanian visa (since our original one was single entry only) we arrived illegally in Jordan, we were not checked and our passports not stamped. Thanks to my embassy, which informed me about that fact, we went to the immigration office in Amman to get a handwritten declaration in our passports (which created slight problems during the departure at Amman airport anyway).
The Israelis did not even give me the chance to pick up my belongings from my apartment in Birzeit. I arrived back home in Vienna with just the bag that I had used for the trip to Amman.
Apart from that I had to buy a new flight ticket, new clothes, pay for a hotel, etc. Due to this event my fiance and I were prevented from getting married as planned. We had to make a lot of efforts so that he could come to Europe so that we might marry here. I also cannot visit his family anymore; our family life will always be influenced by this event.
My embassy in Amman and the consulate in Jerusalem have done a great job — they assisted me wherever they could.
The claim that I am a security risk is unsubstantiated, without any proof whatsoever. Personally, I know I do not pose a “security risk” to anyone. As I stated previously, I did not get involved in politics and I do not resort to violence of any sort, no matter the situation. I am quite stunned that I suddenly became the enemy of a state without committing a single act. I have invested my time, efforts, and finances in attending Birzeit University and with one month of the semester remaining it appears that my efforts were in vain because of this unfortunate predicament the Israeli government has put me in. Apart from that I cannot continue my master’s thesis as planned; all my research were focused on Palestine and I did not have the chance to complete everything as I intended.
But worst of all is that I could not say goodbye to my friends and family. This situation is very tragic, abrupt, as well as completely unacceptable. My fiance and I got married last month and it was not be possible to celebrate this day with his family. I am not allowed to visit my husband’s country again, and we cannot live there together although we would like to do so.
Publishing this article under a pseudonym, the writer is a graduate student from Italy recently married to a Palestinian from the West Bank. She can be reached at email@example.com.