On 29 July 2015, George Khoury published what he claims is a verbatim dialogue he had with the security official questioning him at the Ben Gurion Airport border control. I was taught not to believe everything we read in the newspaper and to take reports with a grain of salt. Therefore, while Khoury gives what he claims is a faithful reproduction of the interview I want to suggest another possible version.
I have copied below the entirety of the interview as reported by Khoury in his article. My suggestions for how the “conversation” might have gone are added in italics. Of course, it is possible that neither version is accurate and it would be interesting to get feedback from the security agent, who is the only one aside from Khoury to know what really transpired.
Khoury’s preamble: An airport security agent (who I believe to be a Shin Bet agent) began [Of course you would say this must have been a Shin Bet agent! It gives you so much more status to be interviewed by the Shin Bet than a run-of-the-mill agent].
Agent: “Oh so you came through Ben Gurion airport?”
I’m sorry – did you not check the Israel Consular Services website before leaving the USA? If you had you would have known that you cannot enter Israel through the airport.
Me: “Yes. What’s wrong with that?” What do you mean by that? What’s wrong with coming in through the airport?
Agent: “You can’t do that.”
If you had checked with an Israeli consul in the USA or read the website, you would have known that Palestinians [I wish Israelis would stop using that short form when referring to the Arabs who were resident in the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948] who want to enter Israel must do so via the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan.
Me: “Why? I have an American passport. I came with father Bernard, to spend a few weeks in Jerusalem and that’s it. We are coming here on a religious pilgrimage and to visit some friends and family.”
Agent: “No no, you cannot go to Israel. You should have gone through the Allenby Bridge.”
I understand. However, unless you were specifically invited by a church in Israel and all the documents approved in advance and special permission granted, coming on religious pilgrimage is a form of tourism. Palestinians [again that inaccurate short form] cannot enter Israel at the airport, unless having received prior approval.
Me: “Why should I do that? I’m not coming through as a Palestinian. I’m coming as an American citizen.”
Agent: “No. You are a Palestinian. Why are you denying that you’re a Palestinian?”
Yes, you have American citizenship, but you were born and grew up in what is now either Israel or the Palestinian Authority. According to Article 5 of the Palestinian National Charter, you are a Palestinian and therefore, you must enter Israel by way of Allenby Bridge.
Me: “I’m not denying that I’m Palestinian. I am Palestinian from head to toe. My father is Palestinian. My mother is Palestinian. My brothers are Palestinian. My sister is Palestinian. My grandfather is an Orthodox priest and I can trace my Palestinian roots for the last 500 years. What do you mean I am denying? I am denying nothing.”
Agent: “No no, you belong with the Palestinian people. This is our Israel, this is for the Jews. No Palestinian should come to Israel. You should have gone through the Allenby Bridge.”
I’m sorry this is causing you distress. But by law Palestinians must enter Israel through the Allenby Bridge border crossing.
Me: “Why do you say that? Did I ever have a Palestinian passport? Did I ever live under the Palestinian authority? When the PA was constituted I was never in Palestine and I was never issued a Palestinian passport.”
Agent: “But you have an Israeli ID.” [He is referring to the Israeli ID issued to me after Israel began their occupation of the West Bank in 1967. I had an Israeli ID until I left for the US in 1969.]
Regardless of whether or not you lived in the PA, according to Palestinian law you are a Palestinian and in Israel we must regard you as such. In addition, you were issued an Israeli ID and that makes the case even stronger for regarding you as a Palestinian.
Me: “An Israeli ID is not a Palestinian passport. The Israeli ID was issued to me when I was in Beit Jala when I was studying for the priesthood but you cannot equate that to a Palestinian passport. Juridically speaking, I was never a citizen of a country called Palestine. I am coming with an American passport and you should honor it.” [He forgot to mention that there never ever WAS a country called Palestine, but we’ll let that one go for now.]
Agent: “How do you want me to honor your American passport? Do you want me to kiss it, to hug it, or to worship it? Moreover, you are rude and ill mannered. How did you get to be so rude? You are a Palestinian and you are rude and ill-mannered.”
I am sorry and I understand your distress. However, having American citizenship does not nullify the fact that you were born and raised in what is now the PA. I really am sorry you did not check with an Israeli consul before leaving the USA; that could have saved you from having to go through this horrible experience here now.
Me: “I am neither rude nor ill-mannered I’m just stating the facts. I’m just telling you I’m an American, who has been an American citizen for the past 40 years and I’ve lived in America for 46 years. So you disregard all these legal facts and you only focus on my Palestinian heritage?”
Agent: “You will be deported to Jordan and come through the Allenby Bridge to continue your visit to the West Bank.” [The Allenby Bridge is the connection between Jordan and Israel. Palestinians can only enter the West Bank through this bridge because they are not allowed in through Israel proper.]
You seem to want me to disregard the legal facts established by Oslo whereby Palestinians, as defined by the PA, are under the auspices of the PA. Neither you nor I made up these laws and I am sorry to have to turn you away like this. In any case, Israel is a sovereign nation and, as you can see on the consular website, reserves the right to assess potential danger to our citizens and to allow or disallow entry to those determined to pose some kind of threat. Again, sorry for the trouble this causes you, but we cannot let you enter Israel and are sending you back. Next time, please make sure you understand the rules of entry into Israel before you reach our borders.
In a previous article, I wrote about mondoweiss publishing a series of pieces allegedly describing the experiences of American citizens of “Palestinian” origin trying to enter Israel through the airport. I argued that these were deceitful pieces prepared solely for the purpose of tarnishing Israel. In each of the mondoweiss articles there is a supposedly verbatim reproduction of the interview with security. This was the first of them. I leave you to decide what to believe.