Just another day at Tel Aviv airport, or any Israeli port of entry/exit...
Message from the Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal
06 August 2006-in the evening
I regret coming to you again today, again with a story of hateful behavior, but I believe that it is a story I am obligated to tell.
I was scheduled to leave Tel Aviv on Swiss Air flight number 255D at 15:55 this afternoon. I proceeded as usual to the baggage and security clearance area. After asking me both relevant and non-relevant security questions, the young woman security officer concluded by questioning why I did not have an Israeli visa even though I was carrying an Israeli passport!! Then she let me put my bags on the conveyor belt so that they could be screened, after decorating both bags and my passport with blue and green stickers. Then I saw her rushing to a supervisor who ordered the belt stopped. Approaching me he asked, "English or Hebrew?" I responded, "Please, Arabic".
Arabic is one of two official languages of the State of Israel and I knew that it was my right in this "oasis of democracy" to make that official request. Because I refused to speak other than Arabic, because I informed them that I am an Arab-Palestinian-Christian, and because down deep I knew that their behavior was designed to humiliate me, I insisted in conversing with them in the language I master which is Arabic, my mother tongue. At that point, Tal Vardi, the Security Duty Manager also showed up and insisted on speaking in any language other than Arabic. I refused. An Arab from Nazareth who happened to be present offered to translate when Mr. Vardi turned his back and turned toward me only to say, "You will not fly today!"
I called Mr. Caesar Marjieh, Director of the Department for Christian Communities who tried his best to assist me, but he did not succeed. I waited two hours thinking that someone with enough courtesy and good judgment would come, but to no avail. I had no alternative but to return to Jerusalem and inform my friends who were expecting me in Geneva today and London tomorrow of the situation. Later in the week I will file a suit in the High Court against the Security Duty Manager and his staff for violating my civil rights without cause.
My indignation is not for me, but it is for all people in occupied territories who face this kind of oppression and humiliation every day of their lives. This happened to an Anglican Bishop with special identification given him by the Department of the Interior and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. What do you imagine happens to others?
In, with, and through Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal
The Diocese of Jerusalem
Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria
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