A Former Palestinian Salafi Radical On His Experience With Israeli Security
I’ve always heard family and acquaintances complain about entering Israel through any of its border crossings. The stories are familiar: hours of waiting and being questioned multiple times. Therefore they say, “This is to make us hate our lives and regret coming into the country. They would rather not have us ever return.”
I decided to experience this for myself. However, before I tell you about my experience, let me provide some background.
I am an avid traveler. I have traveled the world. Therefore, I recognize that Israel needs to secure its borders like every other country. It must protect itself from criminals and terrorists.
Moreover, Israel is in a uniquely vulnerable position. It is surrounded by people who wish to destroy it and kill its people. This forces Israel to be on alert 24/7 and forces them at times to (sadly) profile specific individuals.
I have been profiled, stopped, and questioned by border security in many countries. Most were easygoing and put visitors through a predictable routine. However, the Arab countries are an exception to this rule. Indeed, I never had a pleasant experience with border security or the police while in Arab countries. Essentially, you have idiots profiling everyone for any minor issue. The primary purpose seems to obtain bribes, and then they leave you alone. Indeed, it appears to have nothing to do with security. As a Palestinian, you may experience outright racism. Meanwhile, in other countries, you are loved. It is a very hit-and-miss experience.
Now let’s talk about my experience in Israel.
It was my first time in Israel in many years. So naturally, I was frightened by the horror stories you hear.
Spoiler alert: it’s a complete lie.
When my passport was taken away, my fears worsened. I wondered what would happen next. Would I be interrogated? How bad will it be, and how long will it take? The place was hectic, and many were awaiting entry.
I waited there for many hours. When someone finally came for me, my heart beat rapidly. I was about to pass out, but I held it together. Finally, I was taken to a side corner, and the so-called interrogation began.
The border security agent asked me a few questions. It was nothing out of the ordinary and took about 10 mins. The agent returned a few times to confirm some details. Then, I realized I was worried for nothing. This is all routine. There were no closed rooms, no interrogations. The agent in question was friendly and professional. He was just doing his job and nothing more.
A few hours later, I was cleared to enter. That is when reality struck me. Why was my experience different?
I told the truth.
I wasn’t disrespectful.
I didn’t try to outsmart the agent.
I didn’t project hatred or superiority towards him.
I didn’t see him as an occupier. Instead, I saw a man doing his job. The same as in every other country I entered on my travels.
It dawned on me how arrogant some of my family members can be. So I imagined how they would act under these circumstances.
They would probably lie.
Think they are more intelligent than the guard and get aggressive with him.
Your attitude towards the situation determines the outcome. If you act like a smart a**, you get the hammer. Yet the Israelis still allow you in regardless.
Another fear I had to face was the IDF checkpoints. I encountered a few of them. Every interaction was the same: respectful and professional. It became clear that these checkpoints were not there to prevent travel. Nor are they a form of apartheid. Instead, they are simply to protect citizens from terror attacks. (Yes, we Palestinians sadly can’t stop trying to kill innocent civilians).
I remember a brief moment chatting with a soldier in Jerusalem. The conversation was pleasant. We talked about where I am from and the beautiful weather and nature in the Holy Land. It felt like I had known the guy for years. I felt the humanity within him. Why would I think to say something so obvious? Because we grew up thinking Israeli soldiers aren’t human. Instead, we were taught they only wish to murder us all. However, they are standing guard over the city. Protecting everyone, including the Palestinians that despise them. They do so despite the hatred they face.
I’ve now seen how life in the Holy Land is in reality. I was surprised at the sheer amount of respect we received. When my wife and kids faced an IDF checkpoint, I saw fear in their eyes for the first time. At first they had weapons drawn, banging the side of the bus and frightening us all. But then, a soldier approached my side after seeing my entry paper and humbly asked if his female counterpart could approach my wife and daughters to check their papers as well. Is this how it’s supposed to be?!! I asked for a blood-thirsty IDF soldier and got Mr. Rogers instead.
I have entered the holy land multiple times since. Every time the experience at the border got easier.
However, the last trip was different for me.
I now enter as someone who has become a Zionist. I say so with pride. But, as always, I was honest. The border agent was more than kind, The border agent didn’t know about my Twitter presence. He asked and I answered honestly. After he allowed me in, I was so happy I showed him my Twitter account. He told me that he let me enter because he believed me. I wanted to hug him.
Everywhere I went, I received smiles and respect. The soldiers seem proud to be Jewish. But wait, I am wrong. The soldier I see before me is an Arab serving in the IDF. Others are serving in the police force. Indeed, Arabs work in every aspect of life in the so-called apartheid state. I soon realized they are proud to be Israeli. Living in a country where everyone is equal. A country where religion, color, and gender are all equal under the flag of Israel.
Leaving Israel was a straightforward process. First, my passport was taken, and then returned 10 mins later. I was quickly cleared for departure. Meanwhile, my wife was pulled aside to be searched by a female. She returned happy, saying, “The lady was so nice, and she even said Shalom to me.”
With every trip I took, my heart grew more loving of the land and its people. Jews aren’t what I was taught. Instead, they are loving, caring people. All they want is to coexist in peace with Arabs on the land.
I can’t wait for the day when I can return again but sadly this might be the last time I am ever able to return. It breaks my heart to say that.
I have hope that one day Palestinians and Israelis can coexist together in peace and we can enjoy a falafel together and look back on how far we’ve come along. I hope we can leave our children the legacy of peace, something for which they will love and remember us.