I spent months preparing for my trip to Israel with the primary aim of visiting Jerusalem and seeing the great historical landmarks that are located there. Upon reaching Ben Gurion Airport on June 24, the early warning signs should have been clear. At passport control, a woman rifled through my passport and asked “You’ve been to Pakistan?” Then she quickly sifted me through to the interrogation room where everyone, incidentally, was either Arab or Muslim. My fears of racial and religious discrimination, instead of being proven overblown and hyped up as I had hoped, were quickly justified.
The “guilty until proven innocent” ordeal began with a brief period of questioning about my personal details and motives in visiting Israel and lasted for 10 hours. The interrogators read my phone messages while repeatedly insisting they knew I was up to something untoward. They 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, 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 a 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. The doors in the cells were without knobs, the windows were double barred and the rooms incredibly humid — a situation made worse by the presence of six individuals in one cell. We all had to make do on small bunk beds covered by furry grey blankets. We were left hot, hungry, thirsty and worried for the night.
The others in my cell included a British Pakistani and French Arab men, who had arrived 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 fulfil his dream of praying at Al-Aqsa mosque.
The messages previous “visitors” had enshrined on the walls, occasionally by famous persons such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, were interesting and indeed provided a source of inspiration as the day dragged along.
At around 4pm, I received a visit from a rather pleasant man from the British embassy who booked me a flight home for the next morning. In response to my demands that something be done about the degrading treatment I had been subjected to, I was given a fairly standard explanation: “We cannot disrespect Israeli sovereignty — it is their country and they can do as they wish.”
My next question left him dumbfounded and he quickly fell silent when I asked: “Would you be saying the same thing if I was locked up in an Iranian facility?”
My sheer naivety that a British passport would exempt me from these kinds of experiences was quickly shattered. I was driven onto the runway and straight on the steps of my plane. The agents escorting me refused to hand over my passport and I only managed to retrieve it from the captain after landing at Luton Airport.
The very idea of a Jewish state where minorities are subjected to inferior treatment is an idea that has roots in centuries past. This ethno-religious criteria used to denominate and rank citizens is hardly the hallmark of a liberal democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.
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