USA, June 21, (Pal Telegraph) - All that remains of the Orwellian "PEACE BE WITH YOU" sign on the Jerusalem side of The Wall that is choking Bethlehem are a few tatters at the top edge of the thirty foot high concrete edifice. The Israeli Minister of Tourism is replacing the image captured on the cover of my second book with bland views of the Old City.
One can even travel to Ben Gurion Airport and remain oblivious to the concrete separation wall which is obfuscated from view in Israel by faux painting and buildups of massive landscaping.
However, The Wall is never out of my minds eye, even as I traveled at night from occupied east Jerusalem to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport at 9 PM last Sunday night, for my seventh departure since June of 2004. I cleared SECURITY at 11:25; fifteen minutes before the doors were locked, but due to a blown generator in one of the engines we waited on the run way until 4 AM before repair and take off.
But, I was still smiling as I approached the first SECURITY agent in the queue who smiled back at me and then asked, "What was your purpose in Israel?"
"To get to Gaza, but I only made it as far as the Erez Checkpoint. For eight days I was embedded with CODE PINK activists who had been invited by the UN to see the facts on the ground and meet the people who try to have a life there. A CODE PINK contingent got through from Egypt and built three playgrounds in Gaza. Did you know that over half of the 1.5 million open air prisoners in Gaza, are kids younger than sixteen years old? Did you know that?"
He shook his head negative and asked, "Do you have your Press Card?"
I laughed, and replied, "I am not card carrying press! I am an Internet Journalist, a member of the New Fourth Estate. My career began in 2005, after my first of seven journeys to Israel and occupied Palestine. Everything I write is published first on my site, and I am a feature correspondent for Arabisto and The Palestine Telegraph, which by the way was founded and is based in Gaza. I work with them and am also published by The Peoples Voice, Oped News and other sites."
"Any American media?"
"All are USA, except for The Palestine Telegraph. By the way, today I was in occupied east Jerusalem meeting with Mordechai Vanunu-you know the ex-Orthodox Jew who turned Christian in 1986 and provided the photographic proof and told the truth about Israel's Weapons of Mass Destruction Program twenty-three years ago. Did you know that the democracy that you have in Israel actually sentenced him to three months in jail just for talking to non-Israeli citizens, who happened to be media back in 2004? Incredible but true, and Israel now does not know what to do with him, so they keep rescheduling his Supreme Court appeal. I am the reporter who has been following Vanunu's freedom of speech trial since it began January 25, 2005, which by the way was the same day Hamas was democratically elected. Did you know that?"
The SECURITY man backed away from me, but he kept his eyes on me as he made a phone call. I was still smiling, but my buzz was not chemically induced from the two vodka tonics I had sipped before I arrived at Ben Gurion that night. I could not suppress a giggle at the surreal sight of three twenty-something year olds wearing nearly identical suits and similar ties who were rapidly approaching me as they studied me intently, and when they arrived, the man in the middle asked me, "What is the problem?"
"I haven't any problems at all! In fact I am most happy to inform SECURITY that I am an internet reporter meaning one who does not take assignments from editors or paychecks from conglomerates. And by the way, reporters like me cannot be censored or secured into silence and we report from occupied territory."
They all appeared dazed and confused but remained silent as I was led to the front of the line at the luggage x-ray machine. I apologized to the other travelers for cutting in and explained it was only because I was a SECURITY risk for being a reporter from occupied Palestine. As I waited for my luggage to pass the inspection, I began writing the dialogue that had transpired between me and SECURITY ever since I had arrived at Ben Gurion Airport. Within a minute one of the suits reappeared and asked me what I was writing about.
"My experience's here."
"You cannot write about SECURITY!"
I laughed, sighed and replied, "Sure I can. I have and I will. There is no way any state or SECURITY machine can stop the free flow of information. Nor can SECURITY deny people of their conscience."
He walked away and I kept writing. My checked bag made the trip through x-ray three times before I remembered what I had stowed among my dirty laundry and reading material. As soon as I apologized to SECURITY for what might look like a b-o-m-b to them- but in reality was only a bottle of Russian vodka- I was then told where to take all my luggage and stand and wait my turn to have all the contents of my luggage examined, probed and swabbed. After that thorough inspection and repacking, I was led to the same office I have been before where one is "checked for metal."
Previously, I had been told to remove my shirt and drop my jeans, but this encounter I was allowed to remain fully clothed for my thorough pat down and wanding.
Being an American, I can never fully understand what every Palestinian must endure daily from Israeli SECURITY; but I have heard enough of their stories, seen enough of effects of The Wall and far too many eyes of children who only know Israelis through the barrel of a gun, to ever shut up in trying to educate and agitate the status quo; for experience is all about what you do with what happens to you.
On November 15, 2005, Senator Hillary Clinton stood on the Jerusalem side of The Wall and was quoted in Ha’aretz, expressing support for The Wall because it “is against terrorists” and “not against the Palestinian people.”
On New Years Eve Day of 2005, I visited a family who had just rebuilt their home in Dasheish, one of three a 100% Muslim refugee camps in Bethlehem.
The Habib [not their real name] family had rebuilt on the very same spot after the Israeli Forces blew their former home up without any reason or compensation.
Since 1967, Israel has demolished over 18,000 dwellings [averaging eleven people per unit] which were bulldozed by Israeli forces using USA made caterpillar bulldozers and Israel attempts to justify their home demolitions with three distinct categories:
1. Collective Punishment: Homes of suspected terrorists-which in reality is anyone who opposes the occupation of Palestine- and the families of suicide/homicide bombers. These punitive actions amount to 15% of the over 18,000 homes destroyed since 1967.
2. Administrative Demolitions: For lack of building permits- which Israel refuses to issue-account for 25%. In occupied east Jerusalem there are now 22,000 more homes [one out of four Palestinian homes]with a demolition order over them.
3. SECURITY: The blanket response to all of Israel’s injustices and illegal actions.
Mr. Habib told me that in 2004, Israeli Forces banged on his door and informed the family that their home would be demolished within fifteen minutes. The family all got safely out, but their home was but a memory a few moments later.
“No one in our family had ever been in any trouble with the Israeli government before and no family member had ever been arrested. They picked us to be an example of the power and control that Israel has to deny basic and inalienable human rights,” Mr. Habib informed me without any bitterness.
An Uncle, who lived down the stairs from the Habib’s also, had his home blown away on the very same day. Relatives took them all in, for the poor in Palestine take care of the poor and don’t look to the government to do what people of good will, will do automatically: care for the ill, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners.
When ever I need a taxi while in Bethlehem or Jerusalem, I usually phone Samir-but I always call him Sam.
Sam can comfortably transport eight in his van and he has an excellent sound system. Sam is an Orthodox Christian in the Syrian Church and has a gorgeous wife and two beautiful kids. Sam has VIP papers which enable him to chauffeur the Patriarchs around town without as much hassle as a regular Palestinian would have to endure at the checkpoints.
Sam, his wife and I rode to the Ben Gurion Airport, three hours prior to my 1 AM flight home on January 5, 2006, the final day of my second of seven journey's to Israel and Palestine. We talked a little but mostly we listened to the music of Bob Marley. When we arrived at the checkpoint at the entrance of the airport, Sam rolled down his window and smiled at the young soldier and said, “Shalom” but it sounded more like “Salaam.”
Sam’s VIP pass meant nothing to the soldier and we were all ordered to disembark and pull out all of my luggage. My passport was demanded without a smile and Sam was led into the interrogation room while his wife and I remained out in the cold trying to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Another soldier examined and probed the van looking for b-o-m-b-s and I wondered about the paranoia apparent in so many Israeli’s. I have discerned that it is a holocaust hangover that has blinded many to the fact that the once oppressed have now become the oppressors.
After Sam’s van was thoroughly examined for b-o-m-b-s, I received my passport back marked with a red sticker upon it. Back in Sam’s van his wife expertly removed the sticker and all the glue from my passport. The sticker brands one as having come through occupied territory and Sam informs me that my third degree would be by airport SECURITY.
Sam smiled wryly as he told me, “This is what the Nazi’s did to the Jews before the Holocaust when they made them wear the Star of David. They marked them as the enemy. Now anyone who knows Palestinians or visits occupied territory gets a sticker on their passport to label them as friends of the enemy.”
Then Sam turned up the volume on his Bose system and Bob Marley and the Wailers erupted:
Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up
Don’t give up the fight.
My luggage had been filled with Arabic nonviolent literature but Sam cautioned me to leave it all with him to avoid the extra hassle it could cause me during the routine questioning by airport security. So, I left everything that I could get on the Internet except for books, a CD and a DVD. Sam warned me on what I should and shouldn’t say when I undergo my interrogation from the inquisitive employees at the Ben Gurion Airport.
While in Bethlehem I shared with many about my experience of having my computer confiscated by EL AL employees at JFK Airport, during my December 2005, pre-flight checking in process. Every Palestinian told me “don’t worry about it.”
But every American I spoke with during my time in Israel and Palestine, freaked out when I told them about El Al confiscating my lap top for over an hour before I boarded the plane at JFK for my second trip to the Holy Land. Every American believed that they had downloaded my files, read my emails and perhaps even injected a Trojan into my soft ware.
I had no fear of airport security and I always honestly and briefly answer every question with a smile. Every employee I encountered smiled back at me, except for one, and nobody asked me any ‘explosive’ questions that evening. Three different young women examined and swabbed every item and surface in my luggage and then I knew frisson: the chill in the thrill of the rush you experience in a moment of delight, excitement or fear.
It happened just as the unsmiling young woman examiner came upon the book from the Holy Land Trust conference I had attended from December 27-30, 2005 entitled: "Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance."
She never looked my way, but she read the cover and scanned all the pages most thoroughly. She then walked away with the book and had a conversation with another young woman, who returned with her. After my luggage passed that inspection, the new SECURITY agent told me to follow her. She led me to a small dressing room and I was told me to strip down to my bra and panties. I kept a smile on my face and my pat down and wanding was over a few moments later.
I crashed for five hours out of the thirteen hour flight to JFK and when I awoke, it was to vivid images of The Wall that remain brutally fresh four years later. My mind's eye still see's a thirty foot high and miles long wide concrete boa constrictor and barbed wire fence as dividing, separating, humiliating, dominating, controlling and denying inalienable human rights to every Palestinian in the so called holy land which is in pieces; Bantustans.
When I landed at JFK Airport, Terminal Two to wait three hours for my connection home, all I could think about was The Wall and all the injustice’s I had witnessed during my trip to the occupied territories. Every local, taxi driver, would be terrorist, and I knew of ways around The Wall which had gaps that led to the way to avoid the checkpoint that divides the sister cities of Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
The Israeli government and Senator Clinton have all claimed that The Wall is all about SECURITY.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague deemed The Wall illegal and that it must come fall where ever it lies on Palestinian property-which is most all of it!
The concrete boa constrictor and barbed wire fence is a Machiavellian Orwellian Master Plan to divide, separate, humiliate, dominate, control and deny inalienable human rights to the indigenous people of the Holy Land so that they will give up, give in and leave. But, they never will and although The Wall has destroyed over one million fruit bearing trees on Palestine property and in the Palestinian/'Arab'-Israeli Unrecognized Villages of Israel where ancient olive trees can still be found, for olive trees will live for thousands of years- if they are not plowed down.
Twenty five olive trees can support a typical family in Gaza, the West Bank and in the Unrecognized Villages of Israel, where every little child knows the names of the trees-and they always be- names of mommies, sisters and favorite aunts, for olive tree are a member of their family.
Upon The Wall from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, The Minister of Tourism had hung the Orwellian sign, “Peace be with you.”
By the 6th century the conflicts in the Middle East were already old news, and a prophet stated the obvious:
“Peace, peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace.”-Jeremiah 6:14
For twelve days of Christmas in 2005, I lived in the Little Town of Bethlehem: occupied territory. For twelve days of Christmas, I walked “through streets that were dead” [Bob Dylan] in the morning, noon and night and everywhere I did go, shops were closed, restaurants empty. A few locals would be around and many tour buses did quickly come and go for the pilgrims to snap photos at the Church of The Nativity. But stores remained closed and restaurants empty because most people do not want to see, hear or know about life in occupied territory.
On July 28, 2007, I left occupied east Jerusalem at 8 AM in Sam's van but this time, he did not have to leave his car and go into the interrogation building. SECURITY did ask me politely for my passport and to exit the van to identify my luggage that was in the trunk. I did as I was told and then SECURITY returned my passport with a round blue sticker and the number 78 pasted on the back cover. The sticker marked me as being with a Palestinian and I told Sam, "I am not removing the sticker this time. I am livid to the point of over boil at all I have seen and heard these past two weeks and I will not shut up until I get it all out. I will be writing for the next week about what I have learned and I am going to tell airport security exactly where I have been and that I have been reporting it all on the web. I am flaming mad at my government and pathetic mainstream media who do not tell the truth about what is really going down in the Holy Land, which is all in pieces; Bantustans!
"Bush and Olmerts concept of a contiguous Palestinian state means connecting the unconnected enclaves with underground tunnels while the illegal settlers; colonists; squatters get to use the well paved apartheid roads and my tax dollars support this occupation and injustice! I am totally pissed off and whipped and worn out with misery and grief at all I have seen, heard and it has gone to my gut- my heart in other words- and I will not be silent and I cannot shut up."
Sam shrugged and remained silent as I fumed until I encountered my first Ben Gurion employee. She was the very same young trainee I had crossed paths with in November 2006. I didn't tell her that I remembered her from eight months prior. She had been hesitant and apologetic in her questioning then, but she had now mastered the routine, and there was no joking around. She was most concerned if anyone had given me anything that could be a bomb.
I told her nobody gave me anything except coffee, tea, water, soda, cookies, fruit, hummus and bread during my visits in Palestinian homes in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and in the Dasheish, Aida and Jenin refugee camps.
"How many times have you been to Israel?"
"This makes my fifth."
"Do you have family here?"
"Not blood family, but friends who have become like family."
"What was the purpose for your trip?"
"I am an Internet reporter and I came to investigate what my government and the USA media doesn't talk about."
"So, have all your trips here been for business?"
"You could say that."
She then led me to the first x-ray machine, and after my bags passed through, she returned to me accompanied by another young woman and a young man in a suit.
He asked me; "How many times have you been to Israel?"
"This was my fifth trip and I spent all my time in occupied territory."
"Where have you been?"
East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jenin. I am an Internet reporter and you can read all about my journey on my website," I replied as I handed him my card.
He looked at it carefully, smiled and replied, "Very nice, very interesting."
"Thanks. I hope you will read what I have to share."
"Oh, I will. May I keep your card?"
"Of course, it is yours and please tell all your friends at SECURITY to read me too."
"Thank you for your cooperation. There was a problem with your bags; they must go back through the x-ray machine."
"OK," I said and returned once again to where I had just been.
After the bags came back out, the young man in the suit informed me, "Your bags need to be further examined."
He led me to the next phase, a large rectangular space of tables with x-ray equipment in the middle and delivered me to station number 9, where three females were waiting for me. They asked me to open up all my bags and with plastic gloves on their hands; they swabbed and examined every surface and every article. My sunscreen lotion and Pink IPOD shuffle caused them much concern, but what really got them nervous was a stain on an old suitcase and they wanted to know, "How long had it been there?"
I had no clue as I borrowed the bag from my daughter and hadn't even noticed it until they brought it up. It took another 35 minutes for them to go through all my stuff and all my careful packing had been for naught. They were all pleasant enough, but nobody responded to me when I stated, "All of this happens just because I have been to occupied Palestine? Oh well, every experience is writing material."
After they were satisfied I had no explosives in my luggage, one of them offered to help me repack, but I declined. As soon as I was zipped back up, one of them told me without making any eye contact, "Now I have to check you for metal."
"OK, sure, but I think you mean a strip search?"
She didn't respond and led me to the examining room where my shoes, belt, and jewelry came off and she told me to sit down and she would return soon. After my shoes and belt passed the x-ray inspection, she told me to extend my legs so she could pat them down. Then she instructed me to stand up and hold my arms out so she could wand me all over. The wand kept alarming in the vicinity of the metal buttons and rivets on my jeans. She said, "Have a seat; I must get my supervisor."
She returned with a young woman, who never made eye contact with either of us as she commanded, "You need to drop your pants around your knees."
I complied and after she wanded me all over, she turned and exited as I spoke to her back, "Did I pass the inspection? Can I get dressed?"
She never responded but my first 'companion' said "Yes."
I was then led back to my luggage and another female; one who did make eye contact and smiled a lot said, "Come with me," and I did.
She led me to the front of a line of about twenty travelers' at the Continental check in desk. Two American women had been first in line and behind them was an angry man who yelled at my 'companion' in Hebrew.
She responded without a smile in Hebrew back to him, but did smile as I said to the Americans, "I get to cut in front of you, because I am a security risk. I have been to occupied territory and have been writing what I witnessed and learned on the World Wide Web." I handed out some cards and added, "I hope you will read all about it and tell all your friends."
After receiving my boarding pass, my 'companion' led me on, and as soon as we were out of ear shot from the line of travelers she remarked, "Israelis can be so very rude."
I passed up the bait and responded, "So, all this personal attention is just because I told the truth?"
She smiled again but made no comment until we passed through the employees security check and arrived at Passport control. "Sorry to have put you through all this, but it's just our job."
"I know how that is, and I have just been doing mine."
Message from Ministry of Homeland Security:
You write what you're told!
Thanks corporate news!
We couldn't control the people without you!
Yes, we control both sides of the "debate."
We make the economy dance where we like.
We control your television.
We control your churches.
We control your children.
We track your movements.
We profile your purchases.
We control your patriotism.
We control your munitions industries.
We frame the debate.
We demonize the target of the week.
We cull your numbers.
Trust us.-Ministry of Homeland Security, Author Unknown
by: Eileen Fleming
Eileen is a Feature Correspondent for The Palestine Telegraph and Arabisto
Founder of WeAreWideAwake.org
Author of "Keep Hope Alive" and "Memoirs of a Nice Irish American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory"
Producer "30 Minutes With Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu"
Photo of The Wall copyright Meir Vanunu, 2007.