I had spent months preparing for my trip to the country with the primary aim of visiting Jerusalem and seeing the great historical landmarks such as the Al Aqsa mosque and Wailing Wall. I had purchased clothes appropriate for the sweltering heat of the Middle East, booked my flight well in advance and converted almost all of my remaining savings to Israeli Shekels in an almost hyperactive state of eagerness. It was in this mood that I reached Ben Gurion airport on the morning of June 24.
The early warning signs should have been clear at passport control when the woman there rifled through my passport, asked “You’ve been to Pakistan?” and quickly sifted me through to the interrogation room where everyone incidentally was either Arab or Muslim.
The “guilty until proven innocent” ordeal began with a brief period of questioning about my personal details and motives in visiting and lasted for ten hours in which I was questioned four times. The perpetrator was a blond woman who seemed eager to prove right all the stereotypes I had ever held about Israelis. Indeed on this occasion, I would like to quote from “Naughty Nomad”, an infamous traveller whose advice I quite closely follow:
“The worst thing was the attitudes. Israeli women are forced into the army for two years and many come out the other end as little monsters…”
If you would be as kind as to type “Israelis are...” into Google, the first option on this list (unsurprisingly) is “Israelis are rude”.
The interrogators read all my WhatsApp and text messages in a blatant violation of privacy while they repeatedly insisted they knew I was up to something untoward and threatened me with severe consequences if I didn’t inform them of my hitherto unknown plan. Of course, these claims were made with no evidence whatsoever, and despite my calm exterior, left me incredibly flustered. As expected, exactly what I feared transpired and I was told that I would be denied entry to the state of Israel upon a “security risk”.
My luggage was put through an “explosion detection” machine and after an uncomfortably thorough body search, I was hounded into a van with two security guards. They drove me for five minutes into a gated, white building surrounded by huge fences that one would only accord to a jail or a police station. The doors in our cells were without knobs, the windows were double barred and the rooms incredibly humid and damp – a fact made worse by the presence of six individuals in mine. We all had to make do on small bunk beds covered by furry grey blankets. And thus, it was like this that we were left that night – hungry, thirsty and worried without any fresh water, without any food and unable to sleep a wink due to the heat.
The others in my cell included the British Pakistani and French Arab guys who had come in with me as well as a middle aged Ukrainian man, a Palestinian who had been refused entry despite being a citizen of the state of Israel and a 70-year-old Tajik guy who had been hoping to fulfill his dream of praying at Al-Aqsa mosque. It was this person that I felt for the most; when he wasn’t touching his head to the ground in prayer, he was anxiously walking around the room saying “Y’AllahRehem” (Oh Allah, mercy).
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2013.