Here is what a national security state does to its citizens. In this case, an Israeli-Arab member of the law faculty at the Hebrew University (and Israeli citizen, for what that’s worth) traveled from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport to board a flight to Tunis, where she was to participate in an academic conference on Women and Sexual Reproductive Rights in Tunisia. When she arrived at the airport, security screeners immediately detained her when they discovered she was from East Jerusalem.
The ultimate irony is that Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian‘s academic specialty is “the study of victimization of vulnerable groups in society, especially females.” Now, she has a prime informant for her own research–herself. And it all boiled down to the alleged security threat posed by her laptop. This is the level of respect which Israel’s security state shows to non-Jewish academics:
The process of humiliation by the Israeli security forces started when we reached the airport at the gate…The moment they learned that both the driver and myself live in East Jerusalem, they asked us to park the car on the side, take all our/my luggage and follow them for body and luggage search. A young soldier in a small room in the airport gate searched me…and asked us to wait for almost 40 minutes until they finished checking the cars body and engine.
After all this process, I managed to get inside the airport, and there continued the process of humiliation. I was the only one to wait for a long time. I knew that they were doing a security check on my name, address, and other information. A young female soldier tried to help out and started convincing her superior to allow me to pass. It took her a while then she came, asked me to put my luggage in the x-ray machines and pass. Afterward another security agent asked me to bring all my belongings and follow him up for an additional search. Here, something like 3-4 security personnel were checking my one small bag, my computer bag and my carry-on purse.
They, started taking off the clothes from the luggage, my shoes, underwear, make up, medicine, and placed them in such a messy manner on a long counter.
I was the only one that was searched…My reading material was all over the counter, mixed with my clothes and shoes. Young men were emptying my make up kit and spreading my medication, when one took a picture of my girls, and the other security guy pulled my shoes out of the luggage and put them on the picture… My visit cards, my papers, everything was scattered.with all my belongings in such a disrespectful manner… I stood there not knowing what to do, I was about to cry when I saw my reading materials falling on the floor, and the pages scattered… I asked the female security personnel- that was checking my printed material not to mix between the various articles, she replied ( with so much vulgarity) that I could find the pages and organize them later on.
While I was trying to explain to her that my reading and printing material should be kept intact, I saw another security man fetching my wallet while pulling off all the credit cards and putting them on the counter, and emptying my purse in such a humiliating manner. His friend on the other side was picking up my underwear one after the other and joking about my bras to his friends in Hebrew- thinking that I don’t speak the language. They also took my cell phones and I was unable to call anyone for help…
The whole scene of people mixing all my things together, while I am standing mesmerized captivated by their inhumanity…was horrible and painful. I could not hold my tears, wondering how much one could accept humiliation, dishonor and degradation in the name of Security…and went to get me a tissue to wipe my tears from my purse, when a security officer screamed at me that I can’t touch the purse. While I am in this state, and while my belongings were so dispersed and scattered all over the long counter, the security officer in charge came and told me that I can’t take my reading material to the plane.
I started explaining -with tears and so much anger- to him that I need to read on my way, and it is a 5 hour flight, and my reading material is crucial to me. It took me a while arguing with him and another security officer until I managed to get the approval to take all the pages that they scattered and messed up with me to the plane.
The time was flying and I was about to miss my flight, when a very polite young security officer told me that she will book me a seat, so as to be ready. She actually did book me a window seat. In a short time, the head of the security officers came and told me that I can’t take my laptop with me to the plane.
Again, and while being so hurt, while seeing them joking when looking at my clothes, ridiculing me while dropping my tooth brush on the floor, my money scattered on the counter and much much more- I started explaining to them that I cant leave without the laptop. In trying to calm myself down, and decrease my feeling of hurt, I asked the head of the security to call his superior. His superior, in the name of Tal Vardi # 14544 came (he gave me this name following my request). He was so disrespectful, so rude and abrasive. I was explaining to him how important my laptop is to me, I told him that I need to prepare my lecture, and that a laptop from Israel will never reach Tunisia (there is a high probability that it will be lost or stolen). He kept on telling me that I cant take the laptop with me. Then I told him that if that is a rule, they should inform people that laptops are not allowed on the planes and that security forces cant do it without prior notice. Tal Vardi with such a humiliating and sarcastic manner replied (while having all his staff around him): So next time I need to call you and talk to you before you fly ??? Do you think that we have time for you??”
…I then started yelling while trying to explain but this time with so much anger and told them that their way of treating people is not human, that I allowed them to check everything in my luggage, that I cooperated, but they treated me with such a rude and inhumane manner. Their refusal to allow me to take my laptop with me, even when I was willing it to them if they give it to me in the airplane; and following their refusal to even talk to me or calm me down- they all left me sitting on that long counter alone, 15 minutes from my flight, trying to find a way out. Their talks, their methods of poking fun at me, and their disrespect made me tell them I am not flying. I pulled my luggage, unwrapped the laptop, and left the place.
This whole process of humiliation took between 1:40- 4:30 pm. I ended up with bad chest pains, dizziness and illness which led to vomiting and the feeling of such humiliation…
I am sorry again to miss you, miss learning from the conference and miss sharing with you my work, but must state that there is a limit to the amount of humiliation that one could take, and I felt that the whole process of turning me as a Palestinian woman into a naked entity, with no value, no voice, no respect and no power to fight this demonization back, made me refuse to fly. How could I fly as a human, when all they wanted to do is to strip me from my humanity, using all the power they have, while stealing from me even my ability to protect my girls’ picture, my writings, my reading material, my laptop and my other personal belongings? It was indeed horrible; the way a system of oppression tries to turn us from humans to metamorphosis homo scares…
Please accept my apologies, and please write back to my university and to the Israeli state and ask them to stop depriving us from our ability to participate in conferences…and stop using our bodies/lives and their security reasoning to marginalize, ostracize, and humiliate us.
I have traveled to Israel a number of times, once leading a UJA Federation tour group. It’s funny that we were not treated quite the same way. Could it be that we foreigners were friends of Israel while Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian, despite being a respected academic with an appointment at Israel’s most distinguished university, was somehow an enemy of the state? And please, if anyone wants to argue that she was a legitimate security threat–how could she be one EXITING the country? Or would Israeli security personnel argue that merely by going to an Arab country to speak about Israeli and Palestinian domestic violence that she was insulting the State? Oh, and I’d like to know the purpose of photographing pictures of Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s children? Does this have a preventive security purpose?
Besides, that’s not an argument they used with her. Her detention seemed merely garden variety humiliation designed to put the uppity Arab nigger in her place–and not based on any particular priinciple or reason. I would however like to hear the Shin Bet, or whoever the personnel worked for explain to us why they treated the good professor as if she were a national threat.
Thanks for Richard Gold of Engage for pointing me to this story. It appears the story may have originated online at the Kibbush anti-Occupation website. Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian wrote her statement on November 16th and it was posted at the Engage site November 25th.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.