Harassment Of Senior Academic at Ben Gurion Airport
another one for our records.
Dr Shahoub-Kevorkian is a scholar of international repute whose work spans criminology, social work, gender and violence in Palestinian and Israeli-Palestinian societies.
It is time that victims start to speak up about their humiliations and abuse.... every non-Jew who has lived in Israel has gone through one form of humiliation or another in many contexts by the leading Israeli power. This is not a tirade against Jews or the Israeli people, it is an indictment of an abusive authority, it is a way of giving voice to the victims, the unheard.... in hopes of changing the way things are now.
Yesterday, my mother who is a Hebrew University professor of Criminology in
Israel, an Israeli citizen no less, went to the airport to fly to Tunisia to attend a conference on women's rights. What happened to her in Ben Gurion airport was a humiliating experience that many of us non-Jews have gone through in this Israeli airport, but always kept quiet about it and did not let them pay for their abuse towards us. It's time to say ENOUGH! It's time for the voices of the muted to be heard. Abuse is not only physical; there is also mental and emotional abuse that can be more painful in the long run...
Please read the e mail that my mother sent to her friends, waiting for her in Tunisia....
DR NADERA SHALHOUB-KEVORKIAN
LAW FACULTY, HEBREW UNIVERSITY JERUSALEM
TO THE ORGANISERS OF THE CONFERENCE IN TUNIS
I am so sad to inform you that the Israeli security forces in the airport have effectively prevented me from participating in the conference on: Women and Sexual Reproductive Rights held in Tunis.
The process of humiliation by the Israeli security forces started when we reached the airport gate. As you all know, I live in the Old City of Jerusalem, and I use the available transport from my area. The moment the security forces learned that both the driver and myself live in East Jerusalem, they asked us to park the car on the side, take all our/my luggage, and follow them for a body and luggage search. A young soldier in a small room in the airport gate searched me, asked me to take off my shoes, took my and the driver’s mobile phones and asked us to wait for almost 40 minutes until they finished checking the car’s body and engine.
After all this process, I managed to get inside the airport, and there, the process of humiliation continued. I was the only one to wait for a long time. I knew that they were doing a security check on my name, address, and other information. A young female soldier tried to help out and started convincing her superior to allow me to pass. It took her a while; then she came, asked me to put my luggage in the x-ray machines and pass. Afterwards, another security agent asked me to bring all my belongings and follow him for an additional search.
Here, something like 3-4 security personnel were checking my one small bag, my computer bag and my carry-on purse. They started taking off the clothes and other items from my luggage - shoes, under-wear, make up, medicine - and placed them in such a messy manner on a long counter. I was the only one that was searched. I did not know what to look at or what to do. My reading material was all over the counter, mixed with my clothes and shoes. Young men were emptying my make up kit and spreading out my medication; one took a picture of my girls, and the other security guy pulled my shoes out of the luggage and put them on top of the picture. My visiting cards, my papers, everything was scattered with all my belongings in such a disrespectful manner... I stood there, not knowing what to do.
I nearly cried when I saw my reading materials falling on the floor, and the pages scattered... I asked the female security personnel who was checking my printed material not to mix between the various articles; she replied (with so much vulgarity) that I could find the pages and organize them later on. While I was trying to explain to her that my reading and printing material should be kept intact, I saw another security man fetching my wallet, while pulling out all the credit cards and putting them on the counter, and emptying my purse in such a humiliating manner.
His friend on the other side was picking up my underwear, one item after the other, and joking about my bras to his friends in Hebrew - thinking that I didn’t speak the language. They also took my cell phone and I was unable to call anyone for help. At one point, the phone was ringing and I asked one of them to give it to me, and he did – but I missed the call, and he took it back.
The whole scene of people mixing all my things together - while I was standing mesmerized, captivated by their inhumanity, failing to follow up on who is doing what, where and how - was horrible and painful. I could not hold back my tears, wondering how much humiliation, shame and degradation one could accept in the name of ‘security’. When I went to get me a tissue to wipe my tears from my purse, a security officer screamed at me that I must not touch the purse.
While I was in this state, and while my belongings were so dispersed and scattered all over the long counter, the security officer in charge came and told me that I could not take my reading material to the plane. I started explaining to him - with tears and so much anger - that I need to read on my way, and it is a 5-hour flight and my reading material is crucial to me. It took me a while arguing with him and another security officer. Eventually, I managed to get their approval to take all the pages that they had scattered and messed up with me to the plane.
Time was flying; I was about to miss my flight. A very polite young female security officer told me that she would book me a seat, so as to be ready. She actually did book me a window seat. In a short time, the head of the security officers came and told me that I could not take my laptop with me to the plane. Again - and while being so hurt, while seeing them joking when looking at my clothes, ridiculing me while dropping my tooth brush on the floor, my money scattered on the counter and much, much more- I started explaining to them that I could not leave without the laptop. In trying to calm myself down, and decrease my feeling of hurt, I asked the head of the security to call his superior.
His superior came (Tal Vardi (# 14544 - he gave me this name following my request). He was disrespectful, so rude and abrasive. I explained to him how important my laptop is to me, I told him that I needed to prepare my lecture, and that a laptop from Israel would never reach Tunisia (there was a high probability that it would be lost or stolen). He kept on telling me that I could not take the laptop with me. Then I told him that if that is a rule, they should inform people that laptops are not allowed on the planes and that security forces cant just invent this without prior notice. Tal Vardi replied on such a humiliating and sarcastic manner (while having all his staff around him): “So next time I need to call you and talk to you before you fly? Do you think that we have time for you?"
At that moment I decided that I should call for additional help, as Tal Vardi refused to talk to me entirely, and left me alone. At that time, three security people were packing my stuff up in such a mess, pulling the computer’s battery out and wrapping the laptop without even getting my approval. I called Bilha Cohen, the secretary at the Institute of Criminology, and she gave me the phone number of the Dean’s office. I then called Aliza, the Dean’s secretary. She gave me his home number, and I called him; his wife passed him over to me, and he said that he could not do anything, and that I should call his deputy, she should be the one that could help me out. By that time I was 20 minutes from my flight.
I called his deputy, and there was no one in the office, and my computer was now wrapped, and about to be sent to Tunisia - as planned. I then started yelling, while trying to explain, but this time with so much anger, and told them that their way of treating people was not human. I said that I had allowed them to check everything in my luggage, that I had cooperated, but despite this, they had treated me with such a rude and inhumane manner. Their refusal to allow me to take my laptop with me, even when I was willing for them to hand it over in the airplane was unacceptable; as was their refusal to even talk to me or calm me down - they all left me sitting on that long counter alone, 15 minutes from my flight, trying to find a way out.
Their way of talking, their methods of poking fun at me, and their disrespect, made me tell them: ‘I am not flying’. I pulled my luggage, unwrapped the laptop, and left the place.
This whole process of humiliation took between 1:40- 4:30 pm. I ended up with bad chest pains, dizziness and illness, which led to vomiting and the feeling of such humiliation. I called some friends to help me out, such as Einas from Mada Organization, and Mr. Jaafar Farah and Adella from Musawa Organization. They called me numerous times, trying to calm me down, asking some activists from the office and the airport to help out. I also called my friend Dorit Roer-Streir, but no one was able to change the situation. I left the airport eventually, unable to breath, walk or function.
I am sorry again to miss you, to miss learning from the conference and to miss sharing my work with you, but must state that there is a limit to the amount of humiliation that one could take, and I felt that the whole process of turning me - a Palestinian woman - into a naked entity, with no value, no voice, no respect and no power to fight back at this ‘demonization’, made me refuse to fly. How could I fly as a human, when all they wanted to do is to strip me from my humanity, using all the power they have, while stealing from me even my ability to protect my girls' picture, my writings, my reading material, my laptop and my other personal belongings? It was indeed horrible to experience the way a system of oppression tries to turn us from humans to a metamorphised terrified being.
Please accept my apologies, and please write back to my university and to the Israeli state and ask them to stop depriving us from our ability to participate in conferences, to acquire knowledge, to get each others' support, and stop using our bodies/lives and their security reasoning to marginalize, ostracize, and humiliate us.
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian (November 16th, 2006)