Thursday, August 10, 2006

Airport Humiliations

1. One of the women who was among the hundred or so Iranians whose visas were revoked upon entrance to the U.S. has written a detailed piece outlining the miserable 24 hours she spent in custody. Mehdi has already posted the letter , and it can also be found here and here, so I wont reproduce the text again in my blog. But I do recommend that you read it on one of these sites, and I hope that other members of the group also write of their experience.

2. As for the following letter by Bishop Riah H. Abu El-Assal, I have only seen it here, so I think it is worth it to re-post the text of his letter since i don't think there are too many of this blog's readers who visit the website of the The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem on a regular basis.

The Bishop is a Palestinian-Israeli, or "Arab-Israeli" as they are called in the official discourse of the State of Israel. This means that he is a citizen, which theoretically should grant him equal rights in the democratic State of Israel. Hear from him, in his own words, about how he was treated in the Tel Aviv airport. I have put in bold some portions which I found to be of particular note:

"I was scheduled to leave Tel Aviv on Swiss Air flight number 255D at 15:55 this afternoon. I proceeded as usual to the baggage and security clearance area. After asking me both relevant and non-relevant security questions, the young woman security officer concluded by questioning why I did not have an Israeli visa even though I was carrying an Israeli passport!!

Then she let me put my bags on the conveyor belt so that they could be screened, after decorating both bags and my passport with blue and green stickers. Then I saw her rushing to a supervisor who ordered the belt stopped. Approaching me he asked, “English or Hebrew?” I responded, “Please, Arabic”. Arabic is one of two official languages of the State of Israel and I knew that it was my right in this “oasis of democracy” to make that official request.

Because I refused to speak other than Arabic, because I informed them that I am an Arab-Palestinian-Christian, and because down deep I knew that their behavior was designed to humiliate me, I insisted in conversing with them in the language I master which is Arabic, my mother tongue. At that point, Tal Vardi, the Security Duty Manager also showed up and insisted on speaking in any language other than Arabic. I refused. An Arab from Nazareth who happened to be present offered to translate when Mr. Vardi turned his back and turned toward me only to say, “You will not fly today!”

I called Mr. Caesar Marjieh, Director of the Department for Christian Communities who tried his best to assist me, but he did not succeed. I waited two hours thinking that someone with enough courtesy and good judgment would come, but to no avail. I had no alternative but to return to Jerusalem and inform my friends who were expecting me in Geneva today and London tomorrow of the situation. Later in the week I will file a suit in the High Court against the Security Duty Manager and his staff for violating my civil rights without cause.

My indignation is not for me, but it is for all people in occupied territories who face this kind of oppression and humiliation every day of their lives. This happened to an Anglican Bishop with special identification given him by the Department of the Interior and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. What do you imagine happens to others?

In, with, and through Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal
The Diocese of Jerusalem
Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria