Some of you know that I left Gaza last Thursday, spent Friday and Saturday in Cairo, and left early Sunday morning. Consequently I missed the beginnings of this beautiful Egyptian revolt, and landed in the land of blizzards on Sunday afternoon. Little did I know what a treat I would find at Customs and Immigration. On my customs form, in the section for “Countries visited on this trip prior to U.S. arrival,” I put Egypt. I had also been in Gaza, but had been slightly befuddled as to how to list it.
Palestine is not yet a country. So I scribbled, “Occupied Palestinian territories,” attentive to the fact that the customs forms warn us that making untrue statements is illegal. The “Occupied” caught the eye of the guy at the desk blankly sifting through customs forms. He handed me off to one Agent Schaefer. I looked at the name-tag and was not happy. In Brooklyn, a Schaefer is probably a Jew, and these are not the days of the Bund. I knew I was in trouble.
Schaefer started asking me questions: How long were you in Gaza? Why didn’t you go through Tel-Aviv? Why were you in Cairo? For how long? Why do these buttons say boycott Israel? I never heard of anyone being stuck in Cairo for two months, let me call the Cairo Press Office. Normally when he harasses people freshly arrived from Palestine, he told me, they tell me thatthey go straight from Tel-Aviv into West Bank, no problem. I tried to explain that Gaza has been under siege for six years and that he could go find that out on Google, and that it is nearly impossible to pass through the Erez Crossing, but he waved me off.
I am currently sick with some sort of respiratory illness which makes me cough a lot and started responding to Schaefer’s questions with as much politeness as I could muster after having been traveling for around 19 hours. Like did not elicit like, and Schaefer got very upset when I coughed one time too many in his general direction. Could you please stop coughing in my direction? What I thought was,Could you please stop interrogating me motherfucker, but what I said was, Sorry, alongside another cough. Schaefer almost screamed, You cough in my direction right after I tell you not to! Schaefer clearly enjoys his job. I could see his gun sitting in his holster (although I wondered what it was for; Minuteman fantasies?), and when he asked me why I was nervous, I said something about how I’d just spent time in countries where the police would as soon smack you as look at you. Not like here, he said.That remains to be seen, I thought, recalling stories I’d heard of people with Arabic flashcards treated as national security threats by customs officers.I was unshaven and slightly dark from the Middle Eastern sun, and have an ambiguously Semitic last name. I could see the glint in Schaefer’s eye, kind of like the expression on my dog’s face when she sees a squirrel loose in my backyard. Schaefer thought he had an Arab/Muslim on his hands and in due course would be sending me off to the bowels of the JFK interrogation chambers where another Homeland Security agent would spend a couple hours protecting America by examining the PDFs on agro-ecology littering my desktop.
Schaefer asked me what I was doing in Gaza. Writingon the situation there, I told him. What? He seemed befuddled that I hadn’t been there to write a story about Shalit’s imprisonment or the shisha ban, and asked for clarification. Journalism, writing on the human rights situation there, also studying Arabic. He was able to confirm these facts from letters in my bag as well as the flashcards I had stuffed into my backpack.Still, he was not happy with this answer, perhaps troubled at the suggestion that Palestinians are human beings. Why Gaza?
I muttered something vague about my work being more valuable there, but knew instantly that it was the wrong answer (even if true). For Schaefer, his morality thoroughly pickled in tribalist brine, there’s no “helping” dusky makhlouba-eating Islamists. Do you have family there? I laughed a little, thinking that perhaps I could divert Schaefer’s train of thought with some tribalist camaraderie. No man, I’m Jewish. He looked concerned. You mean Israeli? No man I’m from Brooklyn, accentuating what I could of the accent my Irish babysitter imparted to me from the ages of one to seven.
This did not pacify Schaefer, although it probably prevented me being sent to the detention room. If Schaefer had not been Jewish this deployment of the Jew-card would probably have ushered me straightaway to the taxi rank, but served only to piss him off. He blinked sharply, perturbed that I’d been mixing with the Amalekites. Maybe unknowingly, though: Do you study the Jewish religion?he asked me. This was a little weird. Did he think that study of Judaism would have clarified something about Palestine or Israel me? I had already explained that I study sociology at Cornell, so I asked him,You mean right now?
He was enraged. Yea right now, what do you think? I thought about trying to explain that no, Cornell is not a yeshiva, although sometimes it does seem like an Israeli colony with all of the “Israelis” with suspiciously American accents running around campus. Instead, I said, No, I went to Jewish day school for 12 years, neglecting to append, but it didn’t take. Schaefer did not want to quiz me on my knowledge of the Talmud or Kabbala, and moved on to more pertinent questions, maybe aware that he’d already exposed himself to a lawsuit from the ACLU. He saw my Alan Hart trilogy headlined Zionism, the Enemy of the Jews, and I saw a flash of bafflement move quickly across his face—he had not been confronted with this idea before. Small victory? Maybe not. Do your parents know what you do there?I think so, I answered, but this is my dad calling wondering why I’ve been delayed for 40 minutes, do you want to speak to him? Schaefer was not interested.
More questions followed. How long were you in Gaza? Where did you stay? What are these buttons? Who paid for your trip? One month, a flat, buttons from the Indian convoy, some me, some of Jewbonics’ readership. He also sifted through my business cards, concentrating quite hard when he saw a Raji or an Ahmed appear, unaware, much like the Israeli military, that not all Arab men are terrorists. He started entering information on his computer, putting me into the database of scoundrels who from now on would receive extensive and gracious welcome from the Department of Homeland Security when debarking from international flights.
As I started to walk away, he had one more question: So the only reason you didn’t pass through Israel is because you can’t get press credentials there? Yup, I answered. Anyway. Schaefer can do what he wants with his hard-gotten information. And I really hope he Googles himself now that I’m out of his grasp and have regained my rights. If he does, a message: Schaefer, get your bloody hands off my identity. You can’t have it.
Technorati Tags: creeping fascism, Gaza, Homeland Insecurity, Homeland Security,Islamophobia, Israel, Palestine