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Weathering the Storm
Weathering the Storm
Date posted: March 16, 2011
By Harriet Straughen for MIFTAH Send Article
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I arrived into Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport under a cloud. The storm cloud the plane arrived into was mirrored by the cloud of apprehension that I found myself under at the prospect of the infamously hostile Israeli airport security.
Having been warned by friends (and friends of friends, and strangers) that entry into Ben Gurion was often tricky if not a little grueling, the flight over was spent rehearsing my answers and calming my fears.
As expected, when I disembarked from the plane I was swiftly accosted by a young Israeli security guard who asked to see my passport. She was suspicious of my lack of contacts in the country and my obviously vague plan of action. After a few repeated questions, I was allowed to proceed to passport control where I was again viewed through suspicious eyes as I relayed my story as the happy traveler. I received a stamp in my passport but only 10 meters on I was again asked for my passport and told to sit aside. Asked the same questions as before, I was taken to pick up my bag where it would then be x-rayed. This took no more than 10-15 minutes but the whole time my heart was racing. Within the first hour of arriving into Israel I was made to feel guilty and untrustworthy. I reminded myself that many Palestinians have to go through this and worse every day.
However, the Israelis had succeeded in their efforts to make me feel paranoid and uncomfortable and for the rest of the evening I avoided conversations so as not to have to discuss my intentions for this trip. I was looking forward to crossing over into the West Bank so I didn’t have to be so careful with my words.
The next morning I rose early to an equally misty and wet morning. Once I had found the east Jerusalem bus station thanks to a kind women who walked me right to the door of the appropriate bus (were it not for her I’d still be wandering the streets around Damascus Gate) I found myself in a busy and chatty bus. The welcoming gestures of the driver and his passengers went some way in assuaging my concerns but still the feeling of discomfort lingered as the bus moved towards Ramallah. As I was not sure of how buses operated in terms of checkpoints, whenever I felt us slow down I would pull the curtain past my face in case I instigated a search and had to deal with Israeli military – no doubt my fellow passengers must have thought I was overly paranoid, if not a little naïve. As it was, my fears were unnecessary.
Being dropped off near Manara circle in the pouring rain, I was thrust into the bustle of Ramallah. I had to adjust quickly to the beeping taxis, the fruit sellers and the confusing number of roads that came off the main roundabout. With the incessant wet weather, I was unable to walk around and get my bearings of this new place. As a result, I withdrew into my room and on to my computer. Such was my paranoia that any glitch in my internet connection or phone signal was immediately believed to be interference from ‘government forces’. As it is, this may very well be the case. Israeli intelligence is capable of far more than simple hacking but I suspect that they have more important things to monitor than calls and emails to my mother.
With the dispersal of the clouds over the following days my fears and paranoia also began to subside. As I watch everyone else go about their lives, I am starting to realize that the only way to behave under occupation is to get on with it. It is no use stopping all communications and travel for fear of Israeli interference. I may have been sucked into the suspicious and uncomfortable atmosphere that the Israelis create for their visitors, but I am learning to contain it and ignore it. Over the coming months, it seems that I can learn a great deal from the Palestinian people about how to cope under such circumstances and to understand how they have maintained such spirit and strength despite the numerous interruptions and obstacles to their daily lives.
Harriet Straughen is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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