Graphic by Koh Terai/The Gazelle
I always enjoy my time in Palestine — especially in the city of Hebron, also called Al Khalil. The people of Hebron are like my family. One family in particular, the Al Jabari family, has maintained regular communication with me since I first met them last summer. The first time I went to Hebron was to teach English specifically; spring break was my second visit to reconnect with the family that I had made there. I wanted to see Khalid, a man who is like a father to me.
I crossed the King Hussein Bridge, the bridge that Palestinians must use to travel back and forth between the West Bank and Jordan. Although the border is located between Jordan and Palestine, it is controlled by Israeli forces. As I waited at the border, the border control questioned me. The soldiers knew beforehand that I had visited Hebron before, and they wanted to know why. All I said was the truth: I was there because I was teaching English.
“Did you go to any demonstrations?” an officer questioned.
“No, I don’t go to demonstrations. I try not to get involved in political things,” I replied.
“Well, you became political when you decided to teach in Hebron.”
Teaching English is now a political statement. That says a lot, I thought to myself as I waited for the decision that would either allow me to visit my Al Jabari family or not. I waited for seven hours on a steel chair before they returned my passport.
I traveled directly to Hebron, and I called Khalid.
Khalid is a man in his fifties. He is the uncle of one of my former students. Last summer, I met with him almost everyday. During our meetings, we would drink tea and chat. He lives in the Old City, near the Ibrahimi Mosque and tomb of Prophet Ibrahim. But although the area is sacred, it is under Israeli military occupation — soldiers patrol the streets, checkpoints are common and people are afraid. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed since last October. And if you make a wrong move at a checkpoint, you could be the next martyr.
Even with all the trouble caused by military occupation in the Old City, Palestinian residents of Hebron take care of each other. While there is certainly poverty, there are no homeless or starving people. They even extend their generosity to foreigners.
I stayed with Khalid and his family for the duration of my trip. He lives in a normal residence, but the Israeli forces turned the area into a military zone, which means that you have to pass through a checkpoint to get there. Normally, I pass through the checkpoints without problems. I show my passport, speak in my American accent and they let me through.
But this night was different. I was returning with Khalid from a wedding ceremony. We passed the checkpoint, proceeding toward his home.
“HALT!” one soldier yelled. “He’s THE American,” another one mumbled. “Where is your passport?”
I gave him my U.S. American passport — a passport that would have guaranteed immunity in other circumstances.
Within a moment, I heard five clicks. I blinked and there were five guns pointing at me.
This is it, I thought to myself — one wrong twitch and I will be dead.
“Put your jacket on the ground,” the officer exclaimed.
He pushed me against the wall and ordered me to remove the rest of my clothes. He then put my passport in his pocket. When people point guns at you, there isn’t much you can do other than listen.
“You’ll get it back later,” he said with an arrogant smirk.
I was naked and without my identity. Is my five-foot eight-inch stature really all that threatening? I thought to myself. In reality, the soldiers knew I didn’t have a knife. They wanted to scare me. But I did not feel fear; I only felt an intense anger. I wondered why they were doing this to me. I do not go to demonstrations. I do not promote violence. I am not with any secret organizations.
But I now see that I am a criminal and a threat to Israeli interests in the West Bank.
I am a criminal, because I speak to Arabs.
I just have to remember that my experience was mild compared to the daily life of Palestinians under occupation. Within the international community, there is a continual apathy toward the blatant disregard of human rights within the West Bank and Gaza. There are many peaceful protests and hunger strikes, and all end with death. People turn a blind eye to it all. When the world does not listen to peaceful resistance and calls you a terrorist when you defend yourself, I fear what the outcome will be.