Blog: Friends of the Earth International solidarity mission to Palestine - Part 4
Chair of Friends of the Earth International Jagoda Munic reflects on the international solidarity mission to Palestine
Monday, October 14th 2013
It is time to go home. On the way to the airport by taxi, I was stopped at a check point. A soldier asked where I had been and whether I had passed check points. They searched a rucksack belonging to the taxi driver for weapons. The driver, an Israeli Jew, said later: “It is always a problem when you travel from Jerusalem. There are many Arabs there, and if they stop them, they keep them for a half an hour or longer at the check point. That is way I always tell them that I drive from Tel Aviv, not from Jerusalem. But now, I couldn’t because of you, so that our stories are not different. There are people from Spain, and other countries coming to help Palestinians. Coming to the airport from Jerusalem is always a problem.” We got to the airport, two and a half hours before the scheduled departure. My mind was still stuck on the check point. But little did I know what was ahead of me.
At the airport, my passport was checked 5 times. Apart from where I had been, with whom, etc. they asked me if I had explosives, why had I been in Malaysia (twice), do I know anyone there and where did I stay there (note these travels were in 2010 and 2005 respectively.).
They manually searched all my check-in and hand luggage and I was interviewed by security officers twice. They pulled out Palestinian scarves I had bought and threw them on top of the stuff, as if I was smuggling drugs. Of course, they found a copy of the FoEI annual report and the publication 'Environmental injustice and violations of the Israeli occupation of Palestine' and asked me about FoEI. One security officer said that my readings were rather biased towards the Palestinian perspective, and that he has a feeling that I do not say all the truth. I replied: “What is the whole truth?”. After this, they let me stand there for a while, searched my things a bit more. Then the lady that was searching my things escorted me to the check in desk and then on to a hand luggage scan.
Though I seemed to pass the scan, they put “samples” of something – they wouldn't tell me what – into a computer. The computer display turned red and an alarm went off. They said that they found a little problem in my hand luggage and that they need to search it thoroughly. They took me aside for a body search. Three of them went through all of my stuff, opening jars of cream, pulling coins out of my wallet and taking shots with my camera. I was intimidated of course, but even more worried that they would delete my photographs. I was also worried that they would write down the names of people we met from the notebook and business cards I had with me. After more questions about which hotel I had stayed at etc., they took my laptop out of my hand luggage and put it in a box, which was sent on the same plane. I got the laptop back in Zagreb with my check in luggage.
In the end, I was escorted to passport control and had to go straight to the gate, just in time before the already full plane started to roll off. I was thirsty, exhausted and angry all at the same time. I reckon that is how they treat “Palestinian friends”, as the rest of the team was also questioned and searched. Perhaps this experience is the final proof that what we have observed and heard from Palestinian people is not an exaggeration, but a harsh and underreported reality.
I am now home in Zagreb. It is sunny after rain and green parks are turning in the autumn yellow and red colors. Such a contrast to the dry landscape of Palestine. Croatian problems seem insignificant in comparison with Palestinian, despite our troublesome history in the Balkans and the many economic, social and environmental problems we face.
But what have I learned from this trip? Has this visit to Palestine changed me? And what we can do about it?
You see, before I went to Israel and Palestine, I would not consider myself pro-Palestinian. I was following the conflict superficially. I also know, from the war in Croatia and later in Bosnia, that the media are quite biased and that each side has its own version of a story. I am also very reluctant to jump to conclusions. I prefer to have good information before I make my mind. I did some reading and watched some documentaries prior to the trip.
But nothing prepared me for the harsh reality of Palestine. It is not about two equal sides fighting each other, for reasons illogical to outsiders. There is one side that has much more power and it is abusing this power at every step in the West Bank. The oppression perpetrated by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories is so apparent, that is not surprising that they do not want foreigners to visit the area. It is understandable that Palestinians aim to stop the occupation and that they see it as a root cause of environmental degradation. I also have a much better insight into the work of PENGON - FoE Palestine, that on one side, politically exposes environmental degradation and injustice, but their member groups are working in the fields with poor communities providing access to water and electricity. Indeed, If we stand for environmental and social justice and anti-militarization, we have to support their work and provide accurate information to international fora. I have no doubt that the way to go is to join the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. The boycott has worked well in the case Montgomery and helped in the case of South African apartheid system, so I believe it can work in the case of Palestine too.