(This was originally published on Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s blog)
I attended the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Board Meeting as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship representative, not expecting anything life-altering, but transformation waits for no one.
CPT planned their Board Meeting in Hebron, Palestine during the week of March 13th. They sandwiched it between a Sabeel Conference and a delegation, in case people could take off work longer than a week. It just so happened to coincide with my Spring Break and I decided to travel halfway around the world, instead of resting from my other part-time jobs.
My adventure began at 11:30pm on Saturday, March 11th when I boarded Turkish Airlines at JFK. I had a layover in Istanbul and arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, March 12th at 11:30pm. I prepared for the flights and layover by downloading enough content in terms of TV shows and e-books. I would’ve had the biggest case of ennui if I didn’t.
When we landed in Tel Aviv, I prepared to be questioned. My first encounter was with an Israeli soldier who picked me out of the arrivees. He asked me the standard questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why of my time in Israel. I passed the test and finally made it to Passport Control. There, I was asked the same basic questions, but was asked more directly about my time in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which was actually my first delegation with CPT last May.
Unimpressed with my answer, they sent me to a separate room with a few others who apparently had red flags about their passports as well. Let me add, too, that most of the CPT Board had already arrived in Jerusalem without any kind of trouble.
About 10 minutes in, I was called out by an Israeli Security Force agent for questioning. She first handed me a sheet that looked like this:
I filled it out and was asked about where I worked, organizations I financially support, if I have ever protested, if I give to organizations who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and other pointed questions about where I was staying on my visit. Finally, she asked to see my phone, searched through my emails, contacts, Facebook, and text messages, and asked if I knew Arabic. Feeling exposed, vulnerable, and panicky, I asked if she needed anything else and requested to be excused. After all, I had just spent an hour and a half with her.
When I got back to the holding room, I texted a CPTer to let them know that I was okay, but that I was detained and would keep them up to date. After another hour of waiting, the same security patrol person sent me to another room, Border Control. For several more hours I waited. With my anxiety heightened, I paced around the room. When the room emptied around 7:45 AM, I was called in. I was asked if I was going to Palestine and if I supported BDS, both of which I denied, hoping that they wouldn’t go through my Facebook again to see all my “likes” of BDS related pages. Eventually they handed me back my passport and I left at 8am.
I travelled by shared taxi to the Old City in Jerusalem, zombie shuffled to the hostel, and slept for 10 hours. Thankfully, I was still able to fall asleep at midnight and left the next day with a few other Board members to Hebron.
The rest of the days were split in two. We spent every morning with the CPT Palestine Team patrolling several checkpoints in Hebron. We high-fived kindergarteners going to school in an attempt to bring some kind of hope, in spite of the apartheid state. These children are among the Palestinian people who are designated as “other” by a green passport, as opposed to the blue passports held by Israeli citizens. Those with blue passports are allowed to breeze past these checkpoints while the others are held and interrogated; there’s a similar system for license plates, though obviously none of our new kid friends were driving. I noticed that despite this repression, kids will always go to corner stores to pick up chips and candies, and the latest sneakers and fashions will always be a priority for high school students. Our afternoons were spent at the Hebron Hotel listening to reports from the director, committees, and having lively discussions about what it means to be a Christian organization even when many of our team members practice different faiths.
We adjourned on Friday afternoon and leaving Israel was much easier than arriving. Sure, I went through extra security, but wasn’t harassed, nor was my phone taken away.
I come away from the whole experience with a few fractured thoughts.
- I am more convinced than ever that Israel is an apartheid state. The segregation found with different color passports and license plates to identify who should be targeted is a disgrace. As well as after hearing the history of these checkpoints, from once being a table and some guards to concrete and metal, it shows the certainty of how severe and long lasting Israel wants this oppression to be.=
- CPT’s work on the ground in Palestine, Canada, Colombia, Iraqi-Kurdistan, and Lesbos is crucial in our global political climate with more right-wing fascists spewing their hate-filled rhetoric and creating racist and discriminatory laws without caution or pause. I am thankful for their endurance and courage, and honored to be a part of it.
- Peacemakers and truth tellers are politically dangerous. To call out oppression and imperial nonsense startles the mighty.
- I could not do any of this work without the love and support of this community of peacemakers, creative folk, and rabble rousers.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that what I experienced was not even a fraction of what thousands experience every day. From Iraqi-Kurds denied entry into Turkey, to Black Americans unsafe in their own neighborhoods, or to migrants who attempt to find safe passage through dangerous desert terrain. This week altered my perspective: it’s not that I think that I’ve walked in the shoes of a Palestinian, but that I have seen with my own eyes a sliver of the harsh reality imposed by a seemingly outdated system of oppression. It only then makes sense, to me, to find hope in a God who calls us to act peacefully and justly.