I am a 38 year old white Caucasian United States natural born citizen and Muslim. The details that follow explain my treatment at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces upon attempting to enter the West Bank of the occupied territories and East Jerusalem in May of 2013. I was detained for 12 hours and subjected to mental and physical torture and harassment before being deported back to Jordan and banned from Palestine/Israel for life. I had never previously been to Palestine, have no criminal record in any country, and have had no previous restrictions from the United States or Israel.
I was about to enter (so I thought) the West Bank through the Jordanian border. I recently graduated with my MA in Conflict Transformation/Peacebuilding/Psychosocial Trauma. I have been trained to recognize the signs of mental torture and trauma.
I was asked the following questions by at least 7 interrogators. Oftentimes, there was more than one present:
When I first stepped off the bus that took me to the entry terminal, the questions began: What is the purpose of your visit? Who are you staying with? Why do you want to visit the West Bank and not go into Israel? Do you work with your hosts in Palestine? What do you do for a living? Why are you not working now? How did you meet these hosts? Wait, you just said through your "career" and now you say through "your university". How do you know people in Palestine? Why do you not know people in Israel? Why are you traveling alone? I answered as little as possible throughout the process.
At this point, I entered the main terminal area. I was pulled aside for a security check. There I was taken into a curtained room and harassed. I was told to remove my pants, I was felt in and around my buttocks, my crouch, and had hands inserted around my genitals. My legs attracted a great deal of attention because I have had a knee replacement and a metal plate in my foot resulting from a near-fatal car accident. I was inspected this way a total of three different times, with at least two, often three guards in the room. By this time, it was around 10:30 am.
The second set of questions came from a young early 20's looking woman: Why are you here? How much money do you have? What do you intend to do In the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Who are you staying with? How do you know this person? Are you working? Why are you not working? When did you graduate from university? Again, why are you unemployed? (I had been a student until the end of April) Why are you traveling to the Middle East? Why don't go you back to the United States and get on welfare? There is no excuse for your being unemployed. In what field of concentration did you receive your MA? Again, there is no excuse for your being unemployed. You choose to travel as an unemployed person? Who does that? Everyone travels employed. Why aren't you? Don't you feel worthless being unemployed? You have an MA, you should be able to find a job. Go find work.
The third set of questions came from a mid to late 20's looking woman. These questions were very similar to the previous set, only she asked me more details about what I was carrying with me.
Next set of instructions: Wait please for a few minutes. The place where I was told to wait was directly in front of a table where bags are searched in full view of guards and those entering. My computer bag was turned upside down and dumped out. A very large IDF soldier saw my Qur'an and asked me if I was Muslim. I didn't know what to say. I'm a Sufi, and I'm pluralistic. I have respect for both Israel and Palestine as far as the people. The people are my love, my passion. My religion isn't as simple as what I've read and studied about the IDF's view of "Muslim". My religion is based on love and many paths to God. I was also asked why I had mortgage business cards in my bag. Hadn't I told them I had been a radio personality (they asked)? Yes, but I had a mortgage license when I was investing in real estate in Las Vegas. Again, the young lady: Why don't you go back to the U.S. and do that? My question: What does that have to do with entering Israel?
Finally - it might have been an hour - they decided it was ok - for the moment. If you have never experienced something like this, your most personal items thrown out disrespectfully in full view of everyone, well, it feels like you're standing naked in public. It's humiliating and de-humanizing. That was the first form of mental torture. And the day was yet to begin.
Next, I was told that I could re-pack my bag that "everything was fine" along with a curt "sorry". A guard was standing impatiently while I re-packed everything waiting to escort me to another area. He said "it will be a few minutes". It had been an hour and a half at this point since I entered the "security check", so it was now around 11 am.
I was then told to wait in a seating area until the larger bags were searched. This consumed another two hours, while they went through my books and clothes. I had no books promoting violence or activism.
I was then told to sit again - I asked if there was a problem. "No, there is no problem, everything is fine, security check". This was one of the many lies I was told. I then sat for another two hours before anything happened. In my opinion, all of this had its purpose. I.e. They wanted me to mentally become nervous and/or angry for when the next interrogation was to begin - we had studied this in university, and I had heard about this form of mental torture from my previous work with torture survivors.
The next interrogation was intense, and in my opinion, intended to break me. This time it was a late 20's - early 30's looking woman who conducted the interrogation. Here's where things began to really intensify. At this point, it was around 3 in the afternoon. She began the series of questions as before, asking me all the above mentioned questions about my family, about my employment status, etc... She then proceeded to ask me what I thought about Israel. I told her I wanted peace for the Holy Land, for all who live there. She asked me what I believed spiritually. Again, I knew that Muslim to them is not Muslim to me. I was unsure of how to answer. My spirituality is complex. I told her that I was primarily drawn to Sufi studies, but studied and had respect for all religions. I was asked my parents names, where they lived, what they did for a living, how much money I had, why did I not want to go directly to Israel instead of the West Bank/East Jerusalem, and why I was traveling alone. She wanted my parents social security numbers as well as mine. I refused to give them. She wanted all of my phone numbers, my address in the United States, my email addresses and passwords, and wanted to look at some confirmation emails of my hosts in Palestine. Then there was more verbal abuse about my being unemployed, and I was told to wait a few minutes for immigration, "it won't take long".
The attempt to break me continued. 4 - 7pm passed, with no word from anyone. I watched everyone except me come and go. I was alone with my thoughts only. I saw many Muslims with Kufis and traditional Muslim dress enter with no problems. I myself was wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. I began to get sleepy. I asked guards numerous times as to the situation of my status. It was a "security check" was all I was told. I laid down on the floor with my computer bag as a pillow and fell asleep. Around 7 pm I was awakened by another interrogator. He asked me a few more questions, and said "it won't be long". I waited another hour and a half. Finally, I found someone and demanded that they bring me to someone who could give me an answer. "Wait a minute", I was told.
45 more minutes passed. I asked again, and insisted, becoming quite agitated at this point with the person I asked. I told them I had been mentally and physically harassed, assaulted and humiliated. They went to look for someone, and a woman came out who didn't speak much English. She simply said to grab my bag and follow her. I saw we were heading the opposite way - back to the exit door and the buses. I said "Where are we going?" She said I cannot enter Israel. I said, may I please have my other bags? She asked me where they were. I told her: You people took them, don't you know where they are? We went to get my bags. I demanded to see the immigration official who made the decision. They told me they didn't know who that was. I said of course you do. Someone does. Find him or her. Now. She said "I'm sorry, I don't know". Well, then find someone that does know. Someone has to know. She found the man. He came out and asked what was the problem? I asked him what was the problem? Why was I not being allowed to enter? He said "security reasons". I said that's not an answer. If I'm being deported, tell me why. He became angry and said "security". He told me to leave. I went inside the immigration office and demanded from others an answer. "Security reasons" again. I said fine and left.
I walked outside with all of my bags to wait for the bus back to Jordan. A guard insisted to hold my passport until I boarded the bus. He had also been one of my interrogators and was holding an automatic weapon. I told him that under no uncertain terms would he hold my passport. NO, I told him, You will not have a chance to keep me here any longer.
I waited for the bus - not long. It was 9:30 pm at this point. I boarded the bus and later looked at my passport to notice that I'd been banned for life from Palestine/Israel.