Saturday, September 1, 2012


After being back in the US for just a little over a month, I feel like it's time to finally close the loop and update this blog. I'm back in the US safe and sound, but coming back pretty much broke my heart. I miss Palestine so very much, and not a day goes by that I don't think about returning.

The leaving wasn't too bad. I packed, got on the bus in Bethlehem, and headed for Jerusalem. I met up with the rest of the MCC crew there, and drove to Amman, Jordan. From there, we had a few days of debriefing, and then we flew to London, then Washington, DC. At first, it didn't really hit me that I'd left. I said all my goodbyes, but it wasn't nearly as painful as I'd imagined. The students had already left for the summer, and so I only had to say goodbye to the staff, many of whom had already left for vacation. It was only after I'd left that my heart started to hurt.

MCC's reorientation was fantastic. The Palestine/Jordan team (along with most of the Asia team) were picked up in DC and drove to Akron, PA, where we had a week of restful debriefing and reorientation. It was wonderful to reconnect with the other SALTers and hear all about the adventures that they had in their respective countries. Mennonite Central Committee had some great tips on how to handle reverse-culture shock, and trust me: there has been a lot of that going around.

I am so grateful to MCC for the opportunity to serve in Palestine for a year; I couldn't have asked for a better sending organization. I am so grateful to the MCC Palestine team for their support, faith, and incredible example. I am so grateful to Bethlehem Bible College for welcoming me and caring for me. Truly, I learned more than I taught, I was given more than I gave, and I was loved more than I would have dreamed possible.

Working for change is hard. Working for peace is hard. There were so many times when I got overwhelmed and felt like things would never change. Thank you to each and every person in both Palestine and Israel who proved me wrong. Things are changing. Slowly but surely, they are changing, and I feel honored to have been able to work alongside some unbelievably amazing people (Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals alike) who are all working toward one common goal: to bring peace, justice, and freedom to Occupied Palestine.

The question isn't "if" I'll return to Palestine... it's "when." Right now, I'm catching up with friends, looking for a job (I have an interview next week - cross your fingers for me!), and still trying to readjust to life back in the US. It's a challenge, but one that I'm ready for.

I don't know whether I'll pick this blog back up the next time I head off to the Middle East or whether this is my last entry. Regardless, I want to thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers, and encouragement over this past year. It has truly been invaluable. I am so glad to have had such an incredible network of people supporting me, and I am thankful for each of you.

Until next time,


Thursday, July 5, 2012

When the Evening Comes

Its a little past midnight and I'm sitting on the roof of the dorm building at the college. I tried to go to bed, but I couldn't fall asleep. Sleeping would mean wasting some of the precious few moments I have left here in Palestine, so instead, I'm up here enjoying the beautiful view of Beit Jala. I tried to take a picture so that you could enjoy it with me, but this is the best I could do:

I know it doesn't look like much, but trust me when I say that in person, it is absolutely breathtaking. There's a party going on off in the distance somewhere, and I can hear singing and clapping. Its probably a wedding. I heard a huge bang a moment ago; either a lone firecracker or a soldier's gun shot. It sounded so near, but I didn't see an explosion in the sky... maybe the firecracker was defective. The kids in the refugee camp across the street didn't even flinch. They're used to the noise.

Out of all the things that I've experienced this past year, the distinct scent of Palestine is one that is seared in my brain forevermore. During the day, the smell is a heated concoction of Arabic coffee, dust, rich spices, garbage, roasting shwarmah meat, car exhaust, and whatever fruit is in season.

But once the sun goes down and the blistering heat of the day is replaced by the gentle cool of the night, the smell transforms. In the breezy darkness, you can truly smell Palestine. It is earth - olive wood, soil, and a hint of the smell that comes before a thunder storm even though we won't have rain again until the Fall, along with the bit of argeela smoke that wafts from the open windows in the restaurant across the street, and the smell of the freshly washed and sun-dried laundry that the women in the refugee camp are just now finding time to take off the clothes-lines. I'm absolutely sure that this is what heaven smells like. I wish I could bottle it up and take it with me, because I know that my hurting, homesick-for-Palestine heart will soon be craving the familiarity of this evening scent.

With eleven more scalding, sunny days and cool, windy nights in Palestine, I am trying to soak in everything about this confusing, wonderful place that has, at my very core, become a part of me. The sights, the smells, the conversations with beautiful people, the long walks around Bethlehem, the newfound friendship I have with the grocer next-door, the beauty of the Adhan echoing over the hills five times each day, the special spot where I always sit on this rooftop, the way the moon looks so much closer here, the tears I've cried over the conflict in this precious town, the apartheid, the oppression, the pain, the hope, the resilience, and the longing for peace; I want to remember it all. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Cycle of Abuse

I've been so busy these last few weeks trying to cram every little bit of life into my time here that I haven't really had time to do anything else, including blog, but I saw this quote today, and all I could think was "THIS IS ABOUT PALESTINE!"

"It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can't build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again."
--Anne Frank

And then I saw the author, and all I could think was "wow, this is a cycle of abuse that needs to be broken." The abused child grows up and is much more likely to end up abusing his child than someone who never suffered abuse. The psychological damage that is inflicted on one person can also be inflicted on an entire people group, on an entire nation. The Jewish people have been horrifically abused... and now the nation of Israel is, in turn, abusing a weaker people group: the Palestinians. This abusive cycle needs to be broken, and healing needs to take place on both sides of the wall. I have said many times "there will be no peace without justice," but I think I need to add "there will be no peace without justice, and there can be neither peace nor justice without healing."

Intensive therapy helps to heal the abused child who has grown into an abusive adult, but how do you help to heal an entire nation of abused people who have allowed their government to turn into an abusive force? And how do you respond to those countries, like the United States, who are enabling this dysfunction? My psychology degree didn't cover this... if only there was an instruction manual.

Friday, June 15, 2012


You know that feeling when you first meet someone and the two of you just click? None of that awkward, proper "getting to know you" nonsense where you test the waters and ease into your friendship. I'm talking about big loud CLICK where you two just instantly get each other. That is exactly what happened the first time I met David (whom you may remember from our little conversation in this blog post). My second day of work, this short, scrawny kid just walks up to me while I'm sitting in my office, sticks out his hand, and says hello with this big grin on his face. He was the first student at the college to introduce himself to me, and we became fast friends. His English is fantastic, and he made sure to teach me some important Arabic words that my month long Jordanian crash-course had missed, like "sababah," which means "cool." We laugh and joke, and things always feel so easy with him. I immediately had someone that I could be myself around and communicate with (without having to revert to a really bizarre version of charades like I did with most other people).

The first thing that struck me about David was his kindness. It's not something I usually think about when meeting someone, but with him, I couldn't help but recognize it. Over the course of this past year, he has patiently helped me with my Arabic, always gone out of his way to introduce me to other students whom I didn't know, respectfully explained cultural difference to me, and come into my office a few times a week asking if I needed help with any of my work (that kid is now a PRO at stuffing envelopes) all with a huge smile. At first, it shocked me. Here is this stranger, this guy that I don't even know, being so very kind to me, some random new girl who is a foreigner and an outsider in his community. Honestly, the first few months I was here, I really needed that kindness. I felt so fragile, like an infant. I couldn't figure out how to travel by myself, grocery shop by myself, or even communicate with the vast majority of the population by myself. Having someone around who constantly went out of his way to make sure that I was well taken care of and adjusting to my new home made my first few months about a hundred times easier than they would have otherwise been.

My friendship with Jumana developed completely differently. We saw each other every day for five months without saying a single word to each other. The first few months that I was here, I usually waited for the students to approach me instead of approaching them because my Arabic was nowhere near good enough to hold a conversation, and I didn't want to make them self-conscious about their English skills (or lack thereof). While I definitely wouldn't use this relational strategy again, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Live and learn.

So one day, I was waiting for one of my MCC coworkers to finish up teaching an English class so that I could bum a ride to our meeting instead of taking the bus. Since it was an evening class, Jumana was sitting at the front desk of the building as the "manager," making sure that random strangers weren't coming in and out. Since we were the only two people in the entire building who weren't in the English class, I went up to her and forced her to talk with me. Her English was pretty basic (and I've found that girls are usually much more timid about speaking and possibly making a mistake than boys are) so we stuck to topics like school, work, family, and post-graduation plans. After this conversation, we started saying "hi" to each other and casually chatting during lunch.

While our friendship started out slow, we soon bonded over shoes, long hair, and the song tirashrash (do yourself a favor and check out the true cross-cultural beauty of this timeless masterpiece HERE). Turns out that this quiet, stoic girl is actually a huge goofball! I can't believe that I almost missed out on the opportunity of getting to know her, just because both of us were too uncomfortable with our language skills to make the first move.

The reason that these two are on my mind is that they both were among the students who graduated from the college today! I feel like a little momma hen whose chicks have just flown the coop. I am so incredibly proud of both of them for all of their hard work, and I am so excited to see what their futures hold! Both of them have overcome unfathomable obstacles to have made it this far, and I'm telling you people, mark my words: these kids are going places! Also, I realize that I'm only one year older than both of them (it was me walking across that stage last year!) but I still feel like a proud parent.

Jumana, William (the college's caretaker), and David
David and Jumana: two of the many reasons why Palestine has changed my life. They are both such truly, deeply good human beings that they inspire me to be better. I am so, so grateful that these two beautiful people were brought into my life this year, and I cannot imagine my time here without them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Five Weeks (And Enough Tears to Flood the Sea)

With exactly five weeks left until I leave Palestine, I am pretty much in panic mode. The thought of leaving this place, my new home, is absolutely devastating. I cry every time I start to think about it, which makes for some pretty awkward moments, like my bus ride home from work yesterday when the woman sitting next to me dug through her purse and offered me a handful of tissues because I had a mini-breakdown (IN PUBLIC!). I would do just about anything to stay here, but unfortunately, I was told that because I have a one-year work visa, I shouldn't even bother trying to reapply (Israel has a ton of crazy rules and procedures regarding visas). My request for a new visa will be denied. The only option left for me is to go back to the US and try to figure out how to re-immerse myself back into my old life when I feel like a completely different person than the girl who left DC a year ago. I waver between feeling optimistic about returning home and starting my "real, adult life," and wanting to skip out on all my responsibilities, fake my own death, and stay here as an illegal immigrant (don't worry mom, I would never actually do that).

This past year of my life, I have been completely immersed in the struggle for freedom, peace, and justice here in Palestine. This seems to consume my entire life, and I honestly don't know what is going to be left of me once Palestine is stripped away. What will I think about? What will I talk about? What will I work toward? I'm worried that I'll end up floating around in the breeze, completely empty with no direction.

Living in this undercover war zone bonds people together; we all have struggles and frustrations and fears in common. We all are, whether directly or indirectly, working for the same thing: Freedom; freedom that will only come through peace and justice. It is a strange thing to live in a place where I am not free. Even after a year, it is still such a jarring experience to be walking down the street and encounter a checkpoint, or a refugee camp, or a wall. The core of this apartheid system wholly clashes with the core of my faith, which is the love of Christ.

Christ's message of love and peace and equality is the absolute antithesis of this apartheid system, and even after a year and hundreds of conversations, it still breaks my heart every time I encounter a fellow brother or sister in Christ who tries to tell me that this occupation is somehow Biblical, that it is somehow a justifiable means to an end. I can't help but cry for these people who have somehow missed what Jesus was saying. Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself" has somehow turned into "love your neighbor as yourself, unless they have the wrong skin color or speak the wrong language," or "love your neighbor as yourself, unless they have something that you want," or "love your neighbor as yourself, unless they don't love you back, then just kill them all."

Treat someone the way you want to be treated. I don't understand the confusion. How much more clearly could Jesus have put it? If your people were being massacred, wouldn't you desperately want your brothers and sisters in Christ to stand up for you? Refuse to support the group that was killing you? On the other hand, if you were the one doing the massacring, wouldn't you want your brothers and sisters to come and stop you, show you the error of your ways before it was too late, refuse to allow you to slowly lose your humanity by doing something so heinous?

The term "massacre" comes from the Latin term "mass sacrifice." That is exactly what is being done here. Palestinians are being "mass sacrificed" in order to... well... what? In order to give the Jewish people a homeland, an EXCLUSIVELY JEWISH homeland where there are no Arabs allowed? If so, why do Palestinians continue to be kicked out of their homes in the West Bank in order to allow for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements? Often times, people will say, "well the West Bank was part of the land that God promised the Jews," so they should have that too. This poses a bit of a problem, because the land that God promised the ancient Israelites (and that some believe Israelis now have claim to) is not just modern day Israel, West Bank, and Gaza. Oh, no. It is Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and large parts of Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. It's most of the Middle East. So if we believe that the Israelis have claim to all of the original Promised Land, then what are we going to do with the hundred million Arabs who currently live in it?

Somehow, we've skipped over Galatians 3:28-29 which says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." We are one in Christ Jesus. How do we miss that? We are all heirs to the promised land. How do we miss that?

As I'm entering my last month here in Palestine, I'm still struggling with all of this. I'm struggling with what to do with this experience, with this knowledge, and with all of these vivid images of suffering and oppression that will forevermore be burned into my brain. What do I do with all of this pain that constantly weighs down my spirit? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that I wouldn't give up a second of this experience. The oppression that I've seen, the pain I've felt, the depression that I know will follow my return to the US, it all has been and will be worth it. In the next five weeks, I have a graduation ceremony, a birthday party, the wedding of two dear friends, 21 more days of work, countless conversations, meals, cups of tea, and eventually, many devastating, tearful goodbyes. I'm trying to stay positive, and so for now, I am going to focus on the next five weeks, and not any of the moments after.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Parents Visit Palestine!

My darling parents came to visit me a few weeks ago, and we were able to travel around Israel, Palestine, and Jordan! Here are some of the highlights of our travels. Warning: photo overload!

My parents' first day in Palestine, walking around the Suuq in Bethlehem with Emily and me. 

The Shepherds' Fields

The barrier behind us marks the divide in the road. Arabs are only allowed to walk on the side that we are on. The other side of the barrier is for Jews only (or Internationals - I'm sure we wouldn't have gotten in trouble if we'd tried to walk there). Also, you can't see them in this photo, but there were Israeli soldiers stationed at either end of this walk-way.

East Jerusalem


View from the top of Herodion.

Emily & I being statues at Herodion.

Going down into the deep dark bowels of Herodion. I don't look thrilled.

Ancient Water Cistern at Herodion.

Beautiful stone formations in Jordan.

Sunset from our hotel room outside Petra.

Ancient homes in Petra.
Beautiful buildings at Petra.

Climbing into the crevices in the wall at Petra on our way to the treasury.

Coming out of the tunnel after walking for an hour and a half, our first view of the treasury...

There it is!!!

The fam.

Emily and I are so excited!
Climbing onto boulders.

The amphitheater.

Stairway to heaven.


Climbing up into the tombs.
We met a beautiful Bedouin woman who showed us some incredible patterns in the rock.

And of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't get sunburn which later turned into sun poisoning.

Emily falling off the cliff.

Looking down on the dead sea from Masada.

View of the side of Masada.

SO WINDY! And sooooo beautiful!

Such a beautiful view of the ancient city behind me, and the dead sea behind that.

Saying goodbye to the parents!

And that was the end of their visit! Well, they were here for almost two weeks, so obviously there was a little more going on than what these pictures capture, but these were some of the highlights. It was so wonderful to be able to share my city with my parents. They now understand my time and experiences here so much better than when they only were able to connect with me over Skype, and I am so grateful that they were able to make it out for a visit!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Airport Trauma

This article is about two American girls and their recent trip to Israel. It was so incredibly informative and well written that I just had to share it with you all.

Please, read this. Please, take a peak at the racism and discrimination that is so unabashedly bold in Israel. Please, think about how terrified you would be if this had happened to you, or to your child.

I got a little taste of this when heading to Cyprus a few weeks ago, when I was searched (including the back room pat-down and the plethora of security guards herding us through the airport that she talks about) leaving Israel, and when I was detained and interrogated upon re-entry.

I consider myself a pretty tough person. I'm good in high-pressure situations, I rarely get rattled or intimidated, and I experienced a mere fraction of what these girls went through, but I still was shaking when I was released. I still went home and cried from a mix of anger, terror, and sheer emotional exhaustion. It was still all I could think about for days afterward. I still continue to have nightmares about being locked in that dimly lit room in that nearly empty airport at 2am and being yelled at in Hebrew by three huge, intimidating Israeli men.... and I was only there for an hour, these girls were held for 14. The psychological trauma that I experienced, times 14? I can't imagine it. I got that kind of treatment with my Polish-Scottish-German ancestry (aka: my pale skin and light eyes) and my American passport... just imagine the experience of people of a different race or from a different country.

And so, without any more commentary from me, here ya go:

‘Do you feel more Arab or more American?’: Two women’s story of being detained and interrogated at Ben Gurion

ben gurion airport
Ben Gurion Airport
I am an American citizen. I went to American schools my entire life, graduated from an American university and work as an architect in New York City. Why was this happening to me? It all started with a simple question. “What is your father’s name?”
“Okay, please wait a few moments in the waiting room over there.”
Little did I know that my father’s Arab name would make me guilty until proven innocent. A “few moments” would turn into a 14-hour nightmare at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
Sasha Al-Sarabi and Najwa Doughman
I was hoping they wouldn’t separate me from my friend Sasha, whom I was traveling with. We had been warned about possible interrogations and security checks but were reassured that since we were both young, female professionals from New York City with American passports, it wouldn’t be a problem to enter Israel. It was going be my third visit and Sasha’s first.
Sasha was called in to be interrogated by a bleach-blonde pregnant woman and was led into a small office to the left of our waiting room. Twenty minutes passed until Sasha came out, walking quickly back to her seat.
She attempted to reassure me. “It’s going to be fine. They just want to see if we’re lying about anything.” But she was obviously flustered.
Now it was my turn.
“Najwa, come.”
- - -
“Do you feel more Arab or more American?” she asked. I had answered the ten previous questions very calmly, but with this question I looked back at the security official confused and irritated. She couldn’t have been much older than me—her business attire and stern facial expressions did not mask her youth.
“I don’t know, I feel both. Why? Does this affect my ability to get in?”
She ignored my question. “Surely you must feel a little more Arab, you’ve lived in many Middle Eastern countries.”
I did not see the correlation. I have never felt the need to choose. “Yes I have but I also lived in the US for the past seven years, and was born there, so I feel both.” My response did nothing to convince her.
“Hm. Will you go to Al-Aqsa?”
“Yeah, maybe.”
“Will you go to Jewish sites as well?”
“Yes, why not? We want to see everything.”
“But you have been here two times already. Why are you coming now for the third time? You can go to Venezuela, to Mexico, to Canada. It is much closer to New York, and much less expensive!”
I realized the conversation was going nowhere. “Right, but I wanted to come back here again. Don’t you have tourists who come back more than once?”
“I’m asking the questions here,” she replied disgruntled.
“Okay, we are going to do something very interesting now!” Her face transformed from a harsh stare to a slight smirk. She proceeded to type “” on her computer and then turned the keyboard toward me. “Log in,” she demanded.
“What? Really?” I was shocked.
“Log in.”
I typed in my username and password in complete disbelief. She began her invasive search: “Israel,” “Palestine,” “West Bank,” “International Solidarity Movement.”
Looking back, I realize I shouldn’t have logged in. I should have known that nothing I did at this point would change my circumstances, and that this was an invasion of my privacy. Yet all the questions, the feeling that I had to defend myself for simply wanting to enter the country, and the unwavering eye contact of the security officers left me feeling like I had no choice. I was worried I would let Sasha down if I refused and that it would be the reason for both of our denials into the country.
She sifted through my inbox, reading every single email with those keywords. She read sentences out loud to her colleague, sarcastically reenacting and mocking old Google Chat conversations between Sasha and me about our future trip to Jerusalem. I squirmed in my seat.
The Israeli authorities have a notorious reputation for denying entry to Palestinians of all citizenships, and I had received all sorts of advice, solicited and unsolicited, on how to cope with the problem. The security officer opened an email from a friend living in Jerusalem who had advised me to remove myself from internet searches. “They are heavy on googling names at the airport recently,” he had written. “See if you can remove yourselves, not crucial but helpful.”
The security guard found this especially hilarious. With a laugh, she called her blonde colleague over and reread the sentence mockingly. “You can tell your friend, not only do we google you, we read your emails, too!”
I was beyond uncomfortable, uncertain of how else they would try to humiliate me. “Okay, I think you’ve read enough,” I said. “Is what you’re doing even legal? Can you please log out now?”
The guard became even more defensive. “You could ask me to log out, but you know what that would mean, right? Tell me to log out,” she dared me.
I was speechless. I felt completely helpless, furious, and exhausted; I was now entering my fourth hour of interrogation.
After reading several more emails, they wrote down every contact name, email, and phone number they could find. Finally, the interrogator said, “Okay you can go.” But before I could even feel the slightest sense of relief she added, “Good luck getting into Israel.”
Three more hours passed. A large bald man eventually approached us holding our passports. “Come with me,” he ordered. We walked straight across the hall to another waiting room, in front of two small offices.
“As of right now, you have been denied from entering Israel.” Despite the looming feeling I had after walking out of the interrogation room that my hours in this country were numbered, the words still stung with disappointment, frustration, and anger.
Sasha had had it. “Okay, I want a lawyer,” she said. “And I want to call the American embassy, now.”
The guard was not fazed by her requests. “Yes, yes, call whoever you want, after you do procedure.” He turned his back and walked away.
We peered into the office. A stout woman in uniform, about fifty years old, was taking pictures and fingerprints of a man sitting in front of her. Sasha was called in next. The woman told Sasha to sit in front of the camera.
“Wait, before you take my picture, can you tell me why we have to do this?” Sasha asked.
“This is procedure. This is how we do things in Israel,” the woman responded, looked back to her camera.
“You’re treating me like a criminal! I don’t want you to take my picture,” Sasha said. “We’ve already been denied. Why are you doing this?”
“You will take a picture and then wait in a facility until your flight.”
Sasha was persistent. “What facility? Our flight is in nine days! Why were we denied? We need to call the embassy now!”
“You will call after you take your picture. I don’t know why you were denied. My job is just to do procedure. When I go to America, the same happens to me. I get denied from America,” claimed the woman.
“No,” replied Sasha, “No, you don’t.”
After our pictures were taken, we officially felt like criminals. It didn’t help that two new female guards were now assigned to watch us at all times. The most humiliating thing was each guard couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. Everywhere we went, they were right behind us. Even when Sasha went to the restroom, the security guard went with her. After about 30 minutes, six more security guards surrounded us to walk us to another room across the airport. It was as if all the shepherds had come to herd two small sheep.
We had not committed any crime. Our only sin was being born to Arab parents. It was then that we realized what a sheltered life we had lived. We had always read about racial profiling and heard accounts from family members and friends in college. We always sympathized and were infuriated by it, but never had we felt it first hand.
Sasha and I paced back and forth with anxiety while we were made to wait in the hallway. At one point I turned my head and noticed the female guards pointing at our attire and admiring Sasha’s pants. It hit me then, for the first time, that these guards were actually young girls, interested in fashion and trends, like we were. Under different circumstances, could we have actually been friends?
They led us into the next room, which was painted white and had an intimidating, large “Explosive Detection” machine. The guards proceeded to open our luggage. They picked through every single piece of clothing and every tube of makeup. They inspected my laptop and Sasha’s iPad, wiped each item with a cloth, and ran them through the machine. They x-rayed and scanned everything—twice.
After they had gone through every one of our belongings, they proceeded to the body search. I was taken to the back of the room with one male and two female security officers. The room was smaller and closed off with a curtain. The older woman seemed to be training the younger one. She would murmur directions in Hebrew as the younger officer patted me in different places. The man stood right outside the half-open curtain. They scanned my body with a metal detector, and it beeped at the button on my jeans. “Take off your pants,” said the older officer immediately.
I lost my last nerve. “NO,” I responded. “We’ve already been denied. You searched everything. Why do I need to take my pants off after you’ve denied me? I will not take my pants off.”
“This is how we do things in Israel,” the woman snapped back. “You have to take them off.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then someone will make you.” They all walked out of the room.
I began crying and shaking as my mind went through a million different nightmares. Were they going to get more people to hold me down? What the hell is going to happen to us? I wanted to see Sasha and not be alone for a minute longer, but was too afraid of the consequences of leaving the room.
The guards returned a few minutes later with shorts taken from my luggage. “Fine,” they said. “Wear these.”
I struggled into them with tears streaming down my face. I stood ashamed and mortified as she patted me down all over again. I had never felt so humiliated, so degraded, and so violated.
Once my “security search” was over, I changed back into my jeans and returned to the white room. It was Sasha’s turn to be searched.
When this was over, two men from immigration services approached us holding our passports.
“Now you will be taken to a facility.”
“A facility? You mean a jail? Are we arrested? How long are we going to be there?”
“This is not jail. It’s a facility. This is where everybody goes that is denied entry from the State of Israel.”
They took all of our luggage and our phones and drove us about five minutes away from the airport to a gated, white building. All of the windows had double bars on them, and none of the doors had doorknobs. We walked through the dark halls and passed by open rooms filled with bunk beds.
“You can call your parents from my phone, not yours. Leave your phones here. But if it is an international call, use yours. Your flight back is at 8 am tomorrow morning.”
We called our parents, and he took us to our room on the second floor. Inside were ten bunk beds, four sleeping women, a sink, a bathroom, and a shower.
We both stared at the beds for a minute before lying down. The mattresses looked like they were made of duct tape, the room smelled of urine, and there was a grey, furry sheet on each bed. We folded my sweater in half to use as a pillow, and lay in the three-foot-wide bed together, looking up at the bottom of the bunk above us. “FREE PALESTINE, I Shall Return—Maryam 2006” and “21 Gaza Peace Activists detained” were scribbled on the wood. Reading those sentences over and over gave me an odd sense of peace, and we drifted into a restless sleep.
At about 5 am, the guard came to wake the Spanish woman in the bed beside ours. “Wash your face,” he told her. She sprung up, splashed water on her face, and waited for him to come back and unlock the door. We sat up anxiously in the bed waiting for our turn to leave.
At 6:15, a guard came and told us that the US embassy was phoning for us. My parents had called them from Virginia after our two-minute conversation to inform them of what was happening. Sasha answered the phone. “Oh, thank God, we’ve been trying to get in touch with you! This is Sasha. We’ve been through a lot the past few hours.”
“As I told your friend’s parents yesterday, there is really nothing we can do. I’m just glad that you’re going to be able to get on the next flight.” the woman said dispassionately.
“This is ridiculous. They went through my friend’s email. Is that legal?”
“Well, they can do whatever they want. There is nothing we can do. They are their own country, and they make their own rules.”
“If only you could see the conditions we are in. I just wish you could come and smell the room.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry, but at least you’ll be getting on the next flight,” her voice was annoyingly monotonous.
“I can’t believe we are funding this system. I understand the special relationship between America and Israel, but there is clearly something wrong with the way we are being treated”.
“Well, there’s a lot of things wrong with a lot of systems.” She clearly wasn’t going to help us.
“You are right. We should all just sit here and be complacent like you. Well, thanks for your call.” And Sasha hung up.
We had been desperately waiting for this call, and the amount of frustration we felt after receiving it was overwhelming. We had demanded over and over to be able to talk to the American embassy, hoping that being American would give us some sort of protection or a little sense of security. There is no difference between every citizen in America, we thought naively. Surely the US Embassy would rescue us and demand that we be treated like human beings. Surely they would reprimand the Israelis for their appalling practices and demand that they act like the democracy they claim to be.
If we were two American citizens in a Syrian or Iranian “facility,” would the American embassy’s reaction be the same? Would Obama himself not have made a statement by now, demanding our release? If we were Americans of Polish or Chinese descent, would we have been treated this way? American citizens are usually given a three-month visa upon arrival. Why were we an exception? There are a lot of things wrong with a lot of systems, but when we are funding one with billions of our tax dollars, this means that we are supporting it.
An hour later, which seemed like an eternity, the guard showed up. It was now 7:30 am, which was only thirty minutes before our flight. This turned out to be no problem, as we were driven straight to the steps of the airplane. Our passports were given to the captain of the Air France flight. When we arrived in France, three policemen waited for us at the door of the plane, took our passports from the captain, and led us down the stairs of the airplane straight into their police car.
“Does this happen often?” Sasha asked.
“Every day,” replied the officer.