Can a 9th grade student be a security threat to his own country? The answer is “yes” if you are an Arab citizen in Israel. I would like to share with you what happened to me during my summer vacation.
After living in the United States of America for one year, my family of five traveled back to Israel for a few weeks to visit family and friends. After two weeks, my parents and two brothers traveled back to the U.S.A, but I stayed for three additional weeks to spend more time with my relatives and friends.
My father had made plans for me to travel back to the U.S.A. with his friend, a respected businessman who travels extensively. We followed the advice of the travel agent and prepared letters explaining these arrangements and provided signed copies of my parents’ passports.
We left Nazareth early in the morning to arrive for my flight from Tel-Aviv to Washington, D.C. via Istanbul. At the airport my father’s friend’s security check went smoothly, but when my turn came, I had one of the most terrible experiences of my life, one that I wouldn’t want anybody to experience.
While everybody else seemed to pass quickly through the security check, a security officer decided to question me. She took my suitcase for a closer look and then decided to ask me some pointless questions about where I was going, why I was going, where my parents were, etc. I answered every single question with honesty and respect, but she did not have the same attitude, and it seemed to me she was not paying attention to what I was saying. My father’s friend tried to explain to her that he was in charge of me, but she yelled at him and then totally ignored him. After all this intimidation, she decided to send me to another security line, where they checked my bag and everything in it piece by piece, then scanned my body and asked me more questions. They made me feel like a criminal who had done something terribly wrong. I was frightened and humiliated.
Subsequently, she took my passport and asked me to sit down and wait. As I waited for more than 30 minutes, I wasn’t allowed to talk to my father’s friend until she returned my passport. I thought that after this long wait, she would discover that my parents are respectable people with a track record of serving their community. I imagined that she would come back and apologize for mistakenly treating me this way and wish me a good trip. Much to my surprise, no apology came; she gave me back my passport like nothing happened and walked away. I was furious with this behavior, but I went on my way to board the plane. Little did I know there was a bigger surprise waiting for me when I arrived in Washington, D.C..
Our family friend and I landed at Dulles Airport, finished our paperwork, and rushed to the baggage claim area to pick up our bags. After a long wait, we discovered that our bags hadn’t arrived! At the Lost and Found, we were told that our bags were still being checked in Israel! The clerk with Turkish Airlines was very helpful. I told him that I was leaving to volunteer at a camp in Florida the very next morning; after more paperwork and discussion, he told me that everything worked out and my bag would be delivered to my Florida destination after three days. The only problem, however, was that most of my clothes and belongings were in that bag. Technically, all I had were the clothes on my back and my sneakers in my possession.
We left the airport with my father who came to pick us up and began a 2 hour journey from Washington to Harrisonburg, VA, our home in the U.S.A. Luckily, some shops in the United States are open 24 hours a day, so I ended up shopping at 1:00 A.M. after a very long day. The next morning, I got on the bus that drove us from Virginia to Florida.
I was still upset because of the experience I had had the day before, but I was determined to go to camp to volunteer with my church youth group. It was an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children who have family problems or who come from broken homes (More about my expeience at the camp - wmcyouthmission.blogspot.com ). Unfortunately, I had to wait four days for my bag to be delivered to me.
This experience was not the best for me; it was the first time I felt what it is like to be discriminated against in my own country because of my ethnicity. Israel is supposed to provide equal treatment to its citizens both Palestinian and Jewish, as it calls itself a “democratic” country. However, I did not notice anybody else except me treated in this way. Why did they have to treat a 15 year old so disrespectfully? Did they have to keep my bag in Israel? Didn’t they have four hours to check my bag before the airplane departed?
Every time I remember what happened to me, I have a feeling of disappointment and anger. Lately, my mother has repeatedly asked me, “Adi, how do you want to remember this incident?” I realize that I can choose how I remember these wrongdoings. On the one hand, if I choose hatred and anger every time I remember this incident, then what kind of person will I become and how will my future look like as I grow and experience more discrimination?
On the other hand, how can I remember this incident differently, if I want to live up to my Christian values that remind me to forgive, love, show kindness and seek justice in a loving way? How can I remember it in a hopeful way? And lastly, how can I translate my anger toward injustice in a way that encourages me to build bridges in my own country?
I have no clear answers to these questions. However, writing this article is my first step for standing up against injustice that exists in my country, towards the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. Unfair treatment at an airport is one example, but discrimination can be seen in almost every aspect of daily life.
This experience could easily result in creating hatred within me. However, Jesus commands us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. It is not easy to live by the teachings of Jesus, especially when you are angry and feeling discriminated against. I was encouraged by Nelson Mandela who lived and applied the teachings of Jesus while suffering much more than me. He said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background... People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” I will not let this experience teach me to hate, rather I want to learn to love and pray for those who persecute me.
I have decided to be shaped by my Christian values and not by wrongdoings and unjust actions. I want to remember this incident in a hopeful way; therefore and despite my feelings, I have chosen not to hate but to bless. May the Lord heal my country so that people can accept one another and live together in peace.