I have been writing regularly about the abusive behavior of TSA agents at US airports. But other countries are not exempt from this kind of behavior. This account is by a young woman who was subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment by the Israeli equivalent of the TSA at Ben Gurion airport, to the extent of having her breast and genital areas swabbed and having to give them her underwear because her bra was a ‘security threat’, all in the vicinity of a male security guard who smirked at her whenever he came into her direct presence.
The security people seemed to be unable to wrap their minds around the fact that she had a Jewish mother and Palestinian father and had family in both Tel Aviv and Jaffa, as if those facts alone made her suspicious and worthy of being humiliated. She was asked security questions even by the candy vendor. Here are excerpts of her story that are emblematic of the racism that pervades Israeli society towards Palestinians and that seeks to delegitimize their very existence.
All morning I had been mistreated, combed out of the crowd and profiled, my time wasted and my dignity subsequently stepped all over without a second thought. I had been treated like a criminal for having an identity that I was born into, told explicitly in each of these actions that I did not belong here and had no place here at all as a person with Palestinian heritage. Harassed and picked out from the rest because of my name, my history, the assumptions that go with them, and my very intention to visit my family, many of who cannot visit me in the USA.
Here I was being told by a girl in uniform, very close to my age, that my town had no existence in the present, even as I had just left from it hours before arriving at the airport. The whole morning’s exchange culminated at this moment as a burning ember in my stomach. It was emblematic of the constant reminder that we Palestinians are being systematically forgotten and erased from public consciousness in every sphere of life, delegitimizing every root that we are attached to inside and outside of the Israeli state.
Tel Aviv, some of it built on two prominent neighborhoods of my town, much of the rest built upon the orange groves that sustained it, was swallowing up my very presence, right there in the middle of the airport. I realized that, to this girl I was already a disappeared part of “history”, excluded from her general consciousness, not even present in her own imagination of the past.
For oppressed peoples, there are three reactions: rage at the injustice that expresses itself in acts of revenge at whoever happens to be a convenient target, resignation that dulls the senses and makes life a drudgery to be simply endured, and hope that maybe some day things will be better and that the racism that divides us becomes a thing of the past. This young woman chose the third.
I hope that one day this story becomes a fairy tale of what was once the Occupation, in all of its arbitrary character and continual perpetuation of inequality, injustice, and illusion. For now, this experience as described above is just a minor example of the humiliation and daily challenges that Palestinians face on a regular basis when trying to cross checkpoints inside and outside of the West Bank and Gaza. It is just a minor example of the racial profiling that Palestinians with Israeli passports or Jerusalem ID cards go through on a regular basis when walking down the street or applying for a job. It is just a minor example of how the Occupation divides the Palestinian population into all of our different “statuses” and privileges while combining us all together into one essentializing package. It is an example of a situation where the oppression of certain groups of people has been completely normalized by the international community.
If we can start anywhere in deconstructing this Occupation, literally taking it apart, we can start by educating ourselves and our communities. I implore those who read this to learn about the history of Palestine, to learn about recent events on the ground, to talk to as many people as they can, to be curious and ask questions, to look at displays of military power and question the motives of those governments who support them.
Throughout all of this, please remember, that this is not a historical issue, it is a human one.
Peace, Justice and Dignity.
You cannot read such stories without feeling a great sense of anger at the awful way that people with power treat others and how the notion that one’s own race or ethnicity or religion gives one power others poisons everything. And the people who perpetrate these abuses feel safe from retaliation because they wrap themselves in the mantle of ‘protecting the country’.