But only after spending three days in an airport removal centre.
Ben Gurion international airport, Tel Aviv, Israel (Photo via)
Turning a corner in the back of an Israeli police van, Michael Bublè’s “Home” began to blare out of the speakers. “Let me go home / I’ve had my run / Baby, I’m done / I gotta go home,” he crooned.
We both wanted to go home, Michael and I, but I’m guessing he was in a slightly better place to do so than me. I was being driven against my will – along with a bunch of illegal workers from eastern Europe – to the removal centre at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, all for the abominable error of writing about Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
It was a few hours earlier that I’d been told I was persona non grata in Israel. A stern, hard-boiled female officer had tapped her polished red nails on a keyboard in search of incriminating cyber-evidence against me. “What is this?” she barked, turning the screen in my direction. I was sure she could see a manga sweat drop falling from my forehead as I read the title of the article she was pointing at.
“The dangers of stone throwing”, it read, my name clearly and undeniably pixellated right there, at the top of a story I’d written about Israel charging some Palestinian teenagers with attempted murder for throwing stones at a settler. My mind raced to make up a credible cover story. A namesake? A childhood mistake? A false step on my way to embracing Judaism? My cover story of spending a third holiday at my (fake) Italian cousin’s place in Haifa was beginning to unravel like the bullshit it was.
“Did you ever write something good on Israel?”
I raced through my brief journalistic career as a freelancer in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, attempting to find a foothold that would save my ship from wreckage.
With that, I’d won a one-way ticket back home, as well as a three-day stay with Israel’s undesirables in the Ben Gurion removal centre. Only back home in Milan did I discover that I’m now banned from entering Israel until 2019.
That latter stipulation is a convenient one for the Israeli government; banning witnesses of the occupation makes it tricky for them to come back and update their international audience on the plight of the Palestinian people. And while every country holds the right to refuse access to foreign nationals, it seems that Israel is extending the concept of “security threat” to anyone expressing adverse political views. For example, Noam Chomsky – a longtime critic of Israeli policy – was denied access to Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank a few years ago, despite the fact the octogenarian was highly unlikely to do anything too radical there, bar exercising his fundamental right to freedom of speech.
A similar thing happened to the former UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, who was denied entry at Ben Gurion airport, before being put in a holding room and treated as “some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed”.
The author's passport and the "Entry Denied" stamp she received
From the moment I was told about my impending deportation, I entered a “security procedure”, meaning I was stalked by a border officer who’d presumably been tasked with making sure I didn’t speak to anyone, either in person or on the phone. All requests to call my embassy were rejected, and I only had a couple of seconds to let a friend know that I’d been seized before my stalker confiscated my phone.
In a backroom of the airport, all my personal belongings were scattered on a metal countertop and examined one by one with what looked like a toilet brush. Needless to say, they did not find any explosive device. They did, however, come across a very intimidating set of digital cameras and microphones.
All of those belongings were taken from me before I was locked up, only adding to the boredom inherent in spending three days in the same room. Mind you, while staring at the dark, my sweaty back sticking to the plastic bed, I found something to keep my mind alive. Written or carved on the wooden board of the top bed were the testimonials of those who, like me, had been denied entrance because of their sympathy to the Palestinian cause.
Below I’ve paraphrased what I can remember:
“Jo LT. Here to make theatre w/Palestinians”
“For every ISM [International Solidarity Movement] you send back home, ten more will come tonight”
“Back with Free Gaza. 21 people”
“Israel is very bed”
“I miss the homemade hummus, I miss the way Palestinians use too much plastic, I miss the trip from Nablus to Ramallah enjoying the amazing landscape, I miss the way Palestinians make jokes about their situation and call each other habibi [love]. Ana bahibbak ya Falasteen [I love you Palestine].”
One thing I learned from the experience, bar the fact that Palestinians apparently use far too much plastic, was how little many in Tel Aviv wish to be made aware of what’s happening some 40km from their beaches. One of the guards, who was hanging around to light cigarettes (lighters are far too dangerous a tool to be handed to illegal workers and journalists), raised an eyebrow when I told him why I was being deported.
“We don’t like to think about Palestine,” he admitted. “Israelis living near the border with the West Bank and Gaza feel the situation, but in the north we don’t. I come from Netanya; the beaches there are amazing, and even this summer, during the war, life went on as usual.”
The only advantage of being deported, I discovered, is avoiding the check-in queues. The mini-van from the removal centre stopped right under my plane and a border police officer handed my passport to the plane crew, bewildered at the sight of a young harmless-looking Italian girl being escorted out of the country like a mobster.
Before heading to my seat, I turned to my guard and, raising my hand dejectedly – aware that his mind was already made up – muttered, “Free Palestine.”
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