tequila sovereign

The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 3: From Jordan to Palestine

“Let My People Go!” Exodus 9:1
The bridge — known as Al-Karameh by Palestinians, King Hussein by Jordanians, Allenby by Israelis — over the Jordan River is the only exit or entry point for Palestinians living in the West Bank. In solidarity with them, this was the crossing chosen by the delegation.
We left Amman fairly early that Sunday because we had afternoon plans in Nablus. Those plans were thwarted as three of the seven delegates were held at the Israeli passport/visa application checkpoint from about 9:30 am to nearly 8:00 pm.
After arriving at the Israeli side of the border by bus, we submitted our luggage to security and proceeded to the first passport screening just outside the terminal. We were asked a couple of simple questions: what is the purpose of your visit to Israel, and where will you be staying.
A young Israeli woman looked over my passport, asked me the questions, checked in with her supervisor a few times, made fun of my pronunciation of Ramallah, and cleared me to move on. Everyone else of the delegation was similarly passed through; I did not witness anyone being turned back at this point.
Just inside the terminal, we moved through a metal detector after placing our belongings on a belt for scanning (much like a TSA checkpoint at US airports). Everyone of the delegation moved through the detector without incident. I do not remember seeing anyone held back for a body search, nor having their belongings searched. Off to the side, through an opened door, we could see our luggage move into an enclosed area for screening.
After walking through two waiting areas with rows and rows of mostly empty seats, we passed a food stand to enter the passport and visa application area. There were a few people in line but not many, especially given how many had been on the busses outside.
Four members of the delegation were cleared quickly. This appeared odd to the three of them who had, in the past, been held over for between six and eight hours for questioning before being admitted (two are Palestinians but all four have U.S. passports).
Three members of the delegation were held back for further questioning. They were each given an application form and made to wait nearby. They included a Pakistani-American academic, his partner, a Ph.D. graduate and filmmaker, and a Turkish Ph.D. student. The leader of the delegation–a Palestinian academic–remained with them though she had been cleared.
As we stated in our press release (included below), the four were individually interrogated four separate times over the ten hours that they were held. They were asked about their scholarly research, whether or not they had recently signed any petitions, whether or not they had ever published criticisms of Israel, as well as their academic networks, family backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnic origins. One delegate was asked why she wasn’t doing her research on gender based violence in Saudi Arabia (a familiar refrain of Israeli government–to point to the Arab world as the violent one).
The interrogating officer demanded that two of them access their email accounts in her presence using Israeli security computers. One member had to insist twice to be allowed to sign-off from her email account before being allowed to leave the interrogation room. (Both have since deleted their accounts and changed all of their passwords.)
The delegates were pressed about their history of travel to Arab countries, their intended research and political activities while “in Israel and her territories,” and the names and phone numbers of academic and family contacts.
In between each interrogation, the delegates were allowed to talk to one another. But they were left for hours on end without any word on their status, only to find themselves pulled back individually into separate interrogation rooms.
As our colleagues were being interrogated, the three of us who had been cleared waited in an area for people whose luggage was being physically searched. After about an hour, it was apparent to us that our fellow delegates were going to be delayed for much longer than expected. We decided to proceed to the baggage claim area. We retrieved everyone’s luggage–the most activity we were to have for the entire 11 hours–and waited.
It is important to note that once you are cleared at one of the levels of review, you cannot return. So, for most of the day, we had no idea what was going on with the other delegates. In the late afternoon, at two different times, two of us talked our way “for one minute” into checking in with the others about what was going on. The four gave us a quick update but told us to go back so as not to get dragged into the interrogation process.
So, we remained in the baggage claim area for the entire day. We took our seats between the third passport and visa checkpoint and a final security check point where randomly selected individuals were having their purses and bags searched by hand. The overwhelming majority of those whose belongings were checked at this point were women. We watched as the officers opened their bags and purses, spread their things across a table, held up underwear and other personal items as if to inspect them, and then made them sit and wait, sometimes for hours, for a conclusion. A few of the many individuals who were subjected to this process were forced to return for interrogations, or denied entry altogether.
For those who passed, they were expected to collect their luggage and submit all of their belongings for a fourth and final screening through a metal detector on a conveyor belt before allowed to exit the terminal. However, the officer at this device was frequently gone or waved people through to exit.
Oh, the Banality!
Sitting in the baggage area and watching the gendered randomness of who was and was not selected for closer scrutiny, and fully aware that we were also under surveillance, was boring, frustrating, and angering.
A part of me expected Althusser to jump out from behind a curtain and yell, “Hey, you!” No such luck. No curtains. Just a lot of pretense to the serious activity of state security by officers who mostly looked to me to be in their late teens.
By the sixth or seventh hour of staring at our luggage, I decided that part of the IDF’s strategy of deterring internationals from witnessing its occupation of Palestine is to make the process of crossing so painfully tedious that they will give up or never return.
I also decided that the United Nations should amend its human rights accords against torture to include a provision against the tactic of boredom, including prolonged waiting, the offensively public relations’ posters for Israel tourism and patriotism hung about the building (“Have Faith in Israel” my personal favorite), and the inability to return once you exit (meaning that all you can do is sit).
In combination with not wanting to pull out a laptop or other device or materials that might end up getting searched or used in an interrogation (of you or your friends), “excruciatingly boring” barely covers the experience. As much delight as the company of my fellow delegates was for these ten plus hours, it was ten plus hours. On top of being hungry, thirsty, tired, sore, and having to deal with the constant buzzing about our heads of large-ass black flies I was convinced were on the IDF payroll, we were exhausted with boredom.

But it was a particular kind of boredom. Not the boredom of the upper classes. It was a boredom of waiting through a process that wanted you to know, in no uncertain terms, that you do not matter. That you are not important, that your time and frustrations are beside the point. That unless you are a perceived threat to be detained and/or arrested, you are nothing.
A boredom exasperated by the inability to do anything for those being interrogated or irrationality searched for humiliation sake, aware that any effort on our part—or any behavior or conversation perceived as suspect—would only make things worse for them.
This all produced anger—a relentless ache of frustration constrained from any kind of expression that might attract attention.
Of course, we likewise felt that we were being watched by the officers–plains clothed and uniformed–as well as those sitting behind closed doors on the other side of the extant security cameras throughout the terminal.

Two of these officers, who I referred to as The Hackers, moved hither and thither from the passport and visa checkpoint area to a securely closed door with individual passports and visa forms in hand. Frequently, they would stop and talk with plains clothed security and uniformed officers. They pretended purpose but were also so laxidasicle that we wondered if they were actually doing anything at all.
Foucault would be proud. The alleged attention to detail, the performance of dedicated patriotism, the urgency of the nation’s security masks the underlining point of it all, which is to demoralize, humiliate, belittle Palestinians into indifference.
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Academic Delegation to Palestine Endures 10-Hour Interrogation by Israeli Security
On January 12, 2014, a delegation of six academics and a labor activist traveled from Jordan to Palestine through the Israeli checkpoint. The delegation is led by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University and is meeting with Palestinian academics to better understand conditions on the ground and to facilitate future collaborations. Four members of the delegation, including Abdulhadi and Professor Junaid Rana of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, were held at the checkpoint and interrogated by Israeli security, the Ministry of the Interior, and the military, for over ten hours.
Abdulhadi, Rana, and two other delegates, including Professor Joanne Barker of San Francisco State University, support the 2005 call of Palestinian Civil Society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (ACBI) institutions that are complicit in the continued colonization of Palestine. Various delegation members belong to U.S. academic associations that have endorsed ACBI such as the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS), American Studies Association (ASA), and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).
As the four members of the delegation were interrogated, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association (MLA) voted to support a resolution noting grave concern regarding the ability of U.S. scholars to travel and collaborate with Palestinian counterparts.
Four members of the delegation were individually interrogated up to four separate times over the ten hours during which they were held. They were pressed about their scholarly research, academic networks, family backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnic origins. The Israeli security officer demanded contact and cell phone information and two delegates were coerced into accessing their email accounts using Israeli security computers. One member had to insist twice to be allowed to sign-off from an email account before being allowed to leave the interrogation room. Another delegate was told explicitly not to pursue research on colonial gender violence. The delegates were additionally asked about travel to Arab countries, intended research, political activities, and names and phone numbers of academic and family contacts.
Professor Rana was asked whether he had recently signed any petitions regarding Israel, to which he replied that he was a member signatory to BDS resolutions of the AAAS and the ASA. Along with other members of the delegation, those interrogated have been actively involved in the academic boycott of Israeli institutions—as opposed to individual scholars—of higher education. Rana was also asked why he attended a conference on “Transnational American Studies” at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, and whether he had any political writings related to Israel. Such actions are a clear violation of academic freedom, including the freedom to travel for scholarly research, and demonstrate tactics of intimidation and harassment of scholarly inquiry.

The delegation recognizes that their experiences on January 12, 2014, pales in comparison with  the everyday surveillance and criminalization of Palestinian academics who are consistently denied the freedoms to research, publish, and travel. The delegation commends academic associations who have endorsed ACBI and encourage others to follow.

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