Guest contribution by Wedad Yassin
On July 3, 2012, I was detained by Israeli police and soldiers in Al-Khalil (Hebron) simply for being Palestinian and walking on the wrong road.
My friends and I were walking in the Old City and found ourselves on Shuhada Street. We were almost at the end of the street when we were stopped and told that we were not allowed. Why?
“Because,” the soldier said, “this road is for Jews and tourists only.”
Reflexively, I pulled out my American passport and flashed my visa and said, “according to your law I am a tourist. Here is my visa.”
The soldier looked back at me with confused eyes. I did not at all fit the description of a “tourist” the way it’s described in the Israeli school system, for example. I am Arab, I am Muslim, and I wear the hijab. Tourist? No. I’m the perfect example of a “threat.”
After seven hours of interrogation, my friends and I were released from the station at midnight, all thanks to the lawyer who helped us and found absolutely no legal basis to preventing Palestinian pedestrians from walking on this road. The only things prohibited—and for no legitimate reason—are Palestinian-owned vehicles.
Again, this experience happened in July, two months ago.
Today I’m sitting in Amman in Jordan, writing this piece far from home because on August 31st, I was denied re-entry into my homeland.
I applied for a visa extension one week prior to my visa’s expiration. But I didn’t receive my passport back from Beit El, where I had applied, until ten days after my visa expired. My application was denied and I was forced to leave to Jordan, just like that, while my family remained in Ein Yabrood. I spent a day in Jordan and returned to the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge to apply for a new visa and to reunite with my family.
The bus arrived at Allenby. I stepped off and headed toward the line for one of many security checks. I heard a voice shouting “Hajji! Hajji!” in the background and when I turned to look, I saw a man pointing right at me.
“You, come here.” I followed his orders. “Were you sitting behind the driver?”
I looked back, confused of course, and said yes. He grabbed my phone.
“Give me your phone and open your pictures.” I was still confused. He scrolled through my pictures and found a photograph I took from the Jordanian side of the entry onto the bridge. It was a picture of a sign that read, “Bon Voyage, King Hussein Bridge (Allenby).”
He took my phone to a woman nearby who then called me over.
“Why did you take this picture?”
Still unsure of what was gong on, I told her about my scrapbooking hobby. “I like to document my travels.”
“Did someone tell you to take this picture?” I still couldn’t figure out where she was going with this.
She told me to delete the picture. For no reason, of course. But I deleted it and proceeded through security. As I walked away it became apparent to me why I had been the one to face this extra “security measure”. I looked different from the rest of the tourists on the bus. I was a young Muslim Arab of Palestinian descent, and it was easy to tell.
I finally reached passport control. I hand my documents to the Israel behind the window and he asked me the usual questions.
“Do you have a hawiyya?”
“Do you have any other passport?”
“Why are you visiting Israel?”
“Who are you planning to visit and where do you plan to stay?”
After I answered the questions, he mentioned that I had overstayed my last visa and that this might affect my entry. I explained to him the situation and showed him dated papers as evidence. He nodded his head and told me to have a seat and to expect someone to come ask me a couple more questions. I sat and I waited.
Forty-five minutes later, a female Israeli entered the waiting area.
“Wedad, American passport,” she called out. I followed her to another bench where we sat and where she asked me all of the same questions the first Israeli behind the window asked. She looked away from me the entire time as if I was invisible and, without raising her eyes from her paper, asked if I remembered what happened the last time I tried to enter. I asked what she meant. This was her snapping point.
“What happened with you and the police?” she asked, sternly and loudly. “Do you remember?” Of course I remembered. In fact, I was a thousand percent sure she had all of the details in front of her anyways, even the transcripts of the interrogation.
“I was detained for seven hours with the police and questioned,” I told her.
“What were you doing?”
She told me to wait and rushingly disappeared. She returned almost an hour later.
“We’ve decided that we will not let you enter.” She turned to leave.
“Why?” I shouted after her.
“Do you remember what happened with the police?” And with that she walked away.
I stared at her as she walked away. I felt my blood boiling, my eyes burning. I wanted to scream, to cry, but all I kept hearing in my head was “it’ayteesh“. Don’t cry.
Don’t cry, Wedad. Don’t show them any weakness. Don’t give them the satisfaction of your tears. They can’t do this to you.
I stood up. I had an urge to run and pull her around the way my 4-year-old brother does to me. I even thought about crying to her.
Please, please. You can’t, please don’t.
But the voice in my head came back. “Don’t let her feel like she won. It’ayteesh, and stay strong.”
I sat back down, trying my hardest to hold back the tears. I wasn’t allowed to return home.
I sat there for fifteen minutes before someone took my bag and led me to the bus. I was told to sit outside and to wait. My passport was handed off to the Israeli that was given the task of “babysitting” me. They sat me outside in the Jericho heat for an hour before I was allowed to board the bus. I asked what they were waiting for. It was a preemptive measure, he said, “just in case we are sending anyone else back.”
Out of the forty passengers on the original “tourist” bus with me, I was the only one who was sent back. I refused to cry in front of them but the moment I got on the bus that would take me back to Jordan I started crying. The bus driver asked me why they sent me back. “Because they felt like it.”
He laughed and mocked me. “Yes,” I repeated, “they sent me back because they felt like it, just like they felt like taking my country.”
The rest of the ride was silent except for the occasional sniffle.
I wish I knew how to express myself better but I do not think any amount of writing or talking will ever truly illustrate the way I felt at that moment or the way I feel as I write this. My hands shake and my eyes are swollen. I can’t eat nor can I sleep knowing that the fates and freedoms of millions of Palestinians are at the hands of heartless occupiers. How does the world watch this and justify their actions?
Israel denied me the right to return home to my family. I was denied the right to go home because I walked on a street while wearing hijab. I was denied reentry because they felt like it.
Today Israel gave birth to emotions and passions and motivations that I never knew existed in me. It did not silence a freedom fighter; it gave birth to one. Israel’s wanton disregard of my rights has helped me find more courage to stand up against the injustices it promotes. Its apartheid policies and restrictive actions fuel me to work harder for a free Palestine.
Conviction. It’s what I have. A nightmare for Israel.
Wedad Yassin is a Palestinian-American from the Chicagoland area. One year ago, she participated in a study abroad program at Birzeit University where she taught English at the Jalazone Refugee Camp. Wedad is an aspiring professor and an ambitious photographer.