As we got off the four-hour flight, with very little sleep but a lot of hurried talks over what we would tell the authorities, we were greeted with a building of epic proportions. The architecture of Tel Aviv airport was incredible – in the centre of what looked like a huge shopping complex, water flowed in a seemingly impossible vertical stream down to a perfectly clear pool below – but I couldn’t help but to compare this, in my mind, with the rubble that lined the streets of Gaza. The storm brewing beneath the pool’s surface.
As we waited in line to get our passports stamped [or, not], seeing people dragged off for questioning:
“Can you step this way for a minute sir?”
was not particularly reassuring. When we got to the front, my finger was ready on the passport page displaying my Syrian visa. I explained that we were travelling there afterwards, and would need our Israeli stamp on a separate piece of paper. She said that was fine, took our passports and begun on her line of questioning; if we’d ever visited before, why we were coming, where we were staying, who did we know and so on, so it was a good thing we had prepared answers. We were then told to wait beside the stand.
About ten minutes later, a man (who we had been watching the whole time patrolling the place with a handgun on his waist like it was nobody’s business) returned with our passports. He said we could expect further questioning on the way out, but that it was “nothing to worry about”.
In fact, the questioners on the exit were, if anything, even more ferocious than before. A particular issue was made of the whereabouts of my old passport, of which the question was repeated at various intervals as if my answer would suddenly change, as well as where we had met and how we knew each other, in a series of rapid-fire questions clearly designed to uncover the most undercover of personnel. But not us. When she had finished, the woman went over to her boss (with our passports in hand) for further clarification on some issue. This particular issue they had, unbeknown to us until they came back over to discuss in more detail, was absolutely priceless:
“We’re just wondering if you normally travel together, because we presume [looking at Martin] you’re not qualified-“
“Well actually,” I jumped in with, “I normally travel alone, like South America for three months.” I thought I’d “forget” to mention the Egypt-Gaza trip I embarked on, also alone (at least to begin with) earlier this year. But when I say this prejudice that I face is global, I’m not exaggerating.
“OK then,” they replied, clearly taken aback, “welcome.”
Welcome to Occupied Palestine.