A week and a half ago, a German student, who had participated in a summer school course for German-speakers at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, sent a message to all the other participants in the program from Ben-Gurion Airport, where she was about to board a plane on her way home.
In her message she told her colleagues to make sure, before arriving at the airport to catch their flights, to place a file containing 10 maps (all downloaded from the Internet), which they had received to prepare for a lecture on possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in their suitcases, rather than in their hand luggage. The reason for the tweet was that she had been detained in the airport for a “friendly chat” by a security person, after he had found the maps in her hand luggage.
In fact, I had distributed the maps and delivered the lecture, and was absolutely shocked that the maps could be the excuse for detaining anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason.
The first of the 10 maps was of the kingdom of David and Solomon. The second was of the Hasmonean kingdom. The third, of the administrative divisions of the Ottoman Empire in the Levant. Following were maps of Mandatory Palestine before and after the Mandate was divided between Palestine and Transjordan. Then there were maps of the Peel Commission partition plan of 1937, the UN Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947, the 1949 armistice lines, the post-Six Day War map, and a map of the current border lines. The source of most of the maps was Israeli or Jewish, while one or two were of Palestinian origin.
What was suspicious about the maps? I am not sure, but I presume it was the fact that the word “Palestine” appeared on some of them, and the fact that the person possessing them was a young, non-Jewish, German student. After a while the young woman was allowed to proceed, which is when she sent her message.
I found out about the event in real time, and was shocked (I was on my way out of a chamber music concert in Jerusalem), and couldn’t but wonder how easily several months of an academic program carefully designed to cause a group of German-speaking students to better understand the reality in Israel and the problems it confronts could be turned sour by a young security person “just doing his or her job.”
One of my first thoughts, after calming down from the initial shock, went back to a similar experience I had had in the late 1960s as a student, when I crossed the border between West to East Berlin at the Friedrich Straße crossing, on my way to a visit in the DDR. I was held for around 15 minutes by a rather stern Stasi (East German secret service) officer because of some not-very-important paper, which I happened to have in my handbag, that bore the word “Israel” (I was traveling with my American passport, which I had inherited from my American parents).
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I do not know what level in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is responsible for the instructions that the hapless security personnel at Ben-Gurion Airport receive, and how much thought is given to the advisable balance between the benefits and harm that the klotz kasheh questions posed to innocent (99.99% of the time) foreign travelers may cause.
THE CASE I described above is certainly enervating, but not as much as the case of Julie Weinberg-Connors, a Jewish, American left-winger, who was detained at Ben-Gurion Airport a week after the German student was detained, and refused entry into Israel unless she signed a document that she would not visit Area A in the Palestinian Authority without permission from the Israeli authorities (this option emerged only after she contacted a lawyer).
The security person at Ben-Gurion reportedly accused Weinberg-Connors of being a “troublemaker,” which she might well be (especially if “troublemaker” is defined as a left-wing, human-rights and international law supporter, who is critical of Israel’s current government).
According to amendment No. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law of March 2017, no person who is not a citizen of Israel shall be provided with a residence permit and certificate of any sort, if he/she is a member of an organization that calls for the boycott of Israel (i.e., the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its like), or has undertaken to participate in such a boycott. None of the reports regarding the case of Weinberg-Connors suggest that she was accused of supporting BDS, or of having declared that she has undertaken to participate in the boycott of Israel. In fact, Weinberg-Connors came to Israel to study, and is planning to make aliyah – which is her right, under the Law of Return.
That the current Israeli government does not like the likes of Weinberg-Connors goes without saying. But the very same government recently passed the Nation-State Law, which declares that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. The law does not define “the Jewish people,” which supposedly includes all types of Jews, including those who are not Orthodox Jews, are not right-wingers, believe that the Palestinians also have rights, etc. – in short, the likes of Weinberg-Connors and myself, the difference between us being that I was born in this country and she was not, and that I hold an Israeli passport and she does not yet.
In short, the State of Israel is also the nation-state of Julie Weinberg-Connors, and no security person at Ben-Gurion Airport has the right to detain her because of her legitimate political views, or prevent her entry into the country or her remaining here, unless she has committed some crime that entitles the state to question her, prevent her entry or prevent her living here.
Incidentally, the very same applies to American Jewish journalist Peter Beinart, author Moriel Rothman-Zecher (an Israeli citizen) and American Jewish activists Simone Zimmerman (who was, inter alia, asked by a security person about what she thinks of Netanyahu) and Abigail Kirschbaum, who have Israeli work permits – all of whom were detained for friendly chats because of their political views.
I wonder if anyone will ask for forgiveness on Yom Kippur for all these incidents, which place us in the same category as various highly unsavory, antidemocratic and antiliberal regimes, and whether it is too much to ask for that such incidents shall not repeat themselves in the year of 5779.
Don’t worry, I shall not hold my breath, but shall continue to hope that Israel’s next government, or the one after that, will sweep away some of the nasty antidemocratic habits that have caught root in our beloved nation-state during the term of the current government. Somebody should ask forgiveness for that as well.
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