My Piece on the Middle East
Trip Start Mar 12, 2012
49Trip End Aug 06, 2012
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For the sake of continuity, I shall present an excerpt of my dialogue with Israeli agents using question/answer format. Below, I am represented by the letter "E" (Erik) and the agents are represented by “SOB” (Strict Officer (of the) Border):
SOB: “Where are you flying to?”
SOB: “Why is your hair so messy?”
E: “Because I’ve been up all night
SOB: “Why were you up all night?”
E: “Because I didn’t want to pay for a hotel room that I had to leave by midnight.”
SOB: “Wait here, I will get my superior.”
(After an hour of waiting)
SOB: “Where are you flying to?”
SOB: “Where did you visit in Israel?”
E: “Many places, I rented a car.”
SOB: “How did you know your way around?”
E: “Avis gave me a map”
SOB: “Who’s Avis?”
E: “The rental car company…they have an office downstairs.”
SOB: “Did you speak with any Arabs while you were here?”
E: “Uh, yeah.”
E: “Well, they’re kind of all over the place.”
SOB: “I see from your passport that you went to Jordan.”
E: “Yes, to Petra for a day trip.”
SOB: “Did you speak to any Jordanians?”
E: “Yes, my tour guide.”
SOB: “What did you talk about?”
E: “Um, Petra.”
SOB: “Sit down, this is going to take a while.”
(After another hour of waiting)
SOB: “Where are you flying to?”
SOB: “Do you have a weapon?”
SOB: “Is this your checked bag?”
E: “No, it’s my carry-on.”
SOB: “This is too heavy
E: “How do you know?”
SOB: “Sir, I ask the questions, not you.”
SOB: “You will have to take your checked back through the security line.”
E: “Well, then I will miss my flight.”
SOB: “How could you be so stupid and thoughtless with your checked bag?”
E: “Stupid? In a dozen flights around the world I've had no trouble carrying this bag on board.”
SOB: “Wait here, this will be a problem.”
(After yet another hour)
SOB: “Is this your first visit to Israel?”
E: “Yes, and it will be my last.”
SOB: “Have a nice flight.”
This is only a snippet of the harassment I received from rude twenty-somethings. To add insult to injury, while I sat in my lonely chair for hours at a time, my interrogators sat around joking with each other and talking on their cell phones, as if their only intention was to make me wait for nothing. Also, after completing the tedious task of going through customs, passport control and the x-ray scanners (unnecessary given the fact that my bags were thoroughly checked by hand a handful of times), I saw numerous people at my gate with bigger and no doubt heavier bags than the one I was forced to check, meaning that all of the intimidation, insult and hassle was probably performed out of sheer boredom, or just for kicks.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Israel, not in the least. Security stresses aside, I had an amazing and unforgettable experience. But, my perspective of the situation has changed since my fortnight foray into the Middle East. Perhaps I should have prognosticated it, but after speaking with people on all sides of the issue, I was still taken aback by the sheer pauperism of pragmatism. When I suggested to Jewish folk that it might be better to recognize the fact a partition wall won’t make Palestinian problems “go away” I would receive a sharp retort like “Well, tell them to stick to a peace treaty for once!” I also met Palestinians who were certain that the Holocaust was a Western fabrication designed to gain international support for Israel. In a country where Christians are merely a cultish minority, I would always get either one or the other polarized position.
In America, at least in my lifetime, we have been brought up to tender tacit support for the modern State of Israel. During my stay, I felt more comfortable in Jewish neighborhoods, not least because it is unlikely that I could pass as a Palestinian, but Judaism is also a factor in my family tree, and I grew up proud of my ancestral ties to it. However, since seeing what I have seen in Israel, then juxtaposing it with my jaunt to Berlin, I’ve thought about a some stuff...
When I went to the West Bank, I noticed that the Israelis have full reign over the turf. Not only did I hear an first-hand account from a Bethlehem shop-keep of how the IDF stormed his home and took his father away for 48 hours worth of “questioning,” I also saw a similar event unfold in East Jerusalem. Police in black flak jackets and bulletproof vests, along with helmeted soldiers came to a house I was walking by in broad daylight, entered the premises and came out with a young Palestinian in handcuffs. Of course, I cannot speculate as to what the young man did (it could’ve been something awful), but it seems like it’d be hard to muster trust when the soldiers of (technically) another country have carte blanche to apprehend anyone they desire sans explanation. At the border post on our way back to Jerusalem, anyone Palestinian (or Palestinian-looking) was ordered off of the bus for a more thorough inspection. Caucasians like me didn’t so much as have their passport checked. Watching the action from our seats, Julio and I both openly discussed the segregationist nature of the spectacle. Say what you will about the need for Israel to protect herself, but the method in which this was handled could only conjure up connotations of South African apartheid in the American psyches of both Julio and me. I thought about the greatest King of Israel…David. I thought about how he slew the mighty Philistine with a stone. I thought about the many Palestinians who have no recourse but to chuck rocks at their mighty opposition.
It should go without saying that the most obvious metaphor I can draw from my post-Israel stay in Berlin involves the partition wall itself. There are many exhibitions in Berlin devoted to the divider that left the city bifurcated for nearly thirty years. After visiting some of them, I can only conclude that these types of cement boundaries, including the one currently being constructed along the US-Mexican frontier, will not be remembered favorably by history.
There’s lot I’ve ruminated on since I’ve been in Berlin. It is a city that has been facing its demons for more than a half-century. It is where my grandmother worked as a wartime nurse during its darkest hours, and also where she met and married my grandfather, who was part of an occupying army. One could argue that without the awful atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII, the modern State of Israel might not exist. Once could also argue that I might not exist.