Sunday, April 26, 2009

On Being Detained

I was "detained' a few times, to varying degrees, while crossing back from the West Bank to Israel.

This was the first time:

I took a friend of mine to go and meet the Bedouin teachers that I taught every Tuesday.

She is American, but has Israeli citizenship.

Israelis are not allowed in parts of the West Bank, but Americans are.

So we figured it would be fine as long as she showed them her American passport.

She forgot her American passport.

So then we figured it would be fine if she showed them her American driver's license.

It wasn't fine.

Let me back up.

To get to the Bedouin school, I would catch Arab Bus #36 from the university (near where I lived) into al-Alzaryya, an Arab village inside the West Bank. It is a very short bus ride, maybe 10 minutes, but you have to pass through a checkpoint on your way back, and depending on how thorough the checks are that day, it can take a long time.

The way they do the checks is somewhat inconsistent.

Sometimes, the "easy" times, only the 'Green-pass' Palestinians would have to get off of the bus to be checked, and everyone else (including me as an American passport holder) would just stay on the bus, flash our biggest smile, and show our credentials to the 19 year old armed soldier who would get on the bus to glance at our IDs.

But not every time was easy. Sometimes, we would all have to get off of the bus. Sometimes they would go through our purses and bags. And sometimes, they wouldn't allow people to pass.

When my friend and I were coming back, it was one of the not easy times.

We all got off of the bus, the Israeli soldiers checked us all. When they saw that my friend didn't have a passport, they pulled us both aside, along with two older Arab men. My friend frantically was showing them her driver's license, but they weren't taking it.

Then the bus left us.

My friend speaks Hebrew, but didn't want them to think she was Israeli in case they would fine her for being in the West Bank, but after some heated exchanges in English, she broke into Hebrew to try to explain what had happened.

They became even more suspicious after they realized that she could speak Hebrew, and immediately began yelling at us in Arabic, saying that she was Palestinian (and I guess that I was trying to sneak her in). This, of course, wasn't true. She showed them her Israeli ID, but they thought it was fake, and continued heatedly questioning us. The process dragged on when they realized that she spoke Arabic, as well. All sorts of scenarios were swimming through my head... what if they don't let us through? Who do I call? Do I know the number of the American embassy? What if they let me through but not her? What can I say to convince them to let us through?

The interesting thing was, they questioned us so much that I actually started to feel guilty, as if I had done something wrong. As if I had something to hide. But I didn't do anything wrong, and I didn't have anything to hide.

The process went on for quite a while, with neither of us really knowing what to do. I kept trying to pull my most convincingly-American charm out, trying to explain she was my friend from the UNITED STATES, but they were having none of it.

It all ended quite anti-climatically when they either got tired of us or figured they didn't know what else to do, and they handed us back our ID documents. The fate wasn't the same for the two Arab men with us. They were taken back into another building for further questioning.

They didn't have to tell us twice, and we turned on our heels and took off up the road.

We walked briskly for a ways until a cab came along. The Arab driver looked at us sympathetically as we clammered into the car, saying 'Got held up at the border, huh?'

We paid him to take us back to the university.

1 comment:

Victor said...

Interesting story. Glad you made it.