“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

I Am No Longer Welcome in Israel

I am no longer welcome in Israel. Not welcome to live. Not welcome to study Arabic. I am a student at Birzeit University, and though it has been one of the few tranquil locations in this stormy Intifada, By Richard Johnson, a Canadianan student at Birzeit University www.hcef.org By Richard Johnson, a Canadianan student at Birzeit University I am no longer welcome in Israel. Not welcome to live. Not welcome to study Arabic. I am a student at Birzeit University, and though it has been one of the few tranquil locations in this stormy Intifada, I am guilty by association. I live, by choice, among those who are collectively punished by the perils of occupation. As such I am not welcome. Persona non grata. I am no longer welcome in Israel. That is what the visa teller at the Israeli border with Egypt informed me. What I am doing is illegal, this going, and coming every few months to obtain a new tourist visa. If I can’t get a student visa (which Israel will not issue to internationals at Palestinian universities), I should not be studying here. Despite not having slept in twenty-seven hours (the night previous to crossing the border I completed the eight hour overnight hike up Mount St. Katherine, sister hill to Mount Sinai – I saw a spectacular sunrise), I donned my most charming persona to confront the nineteen-year-old girls at the border. They half-heartedly searched my backpack and were reasonably polite. But the one behind the glass stamped my passport with a three-month tourist visa, then in pen wrote the number ‘1’ over the stamped number ‘3.’ I am no longer welcome in Israel? Who are you to judge, Miss Border Agent? Shall I tell you of my village – my home – where everybody knows my name; where they call me Richard Qalb Al-Asad (Richard the Lion Heart)? Shall I regale you with stories from Gaza of walking down the crowded Friday streets and being invited by any random person to sit for tea and sweet desserts? Perhaps you’re interested to know that I’ve been to soccer games in Jericho and cheered for the home team with my fellow spectators? I’ve often enjoyed a bowl of hummus with my conversation at a hole-in-the-tall restaurant in the Muslim Quarter of Old City Jerusalem. Would you like similar stories from Nablus, Bethlehem, and Beit Jala? I am no longer welcome in Israel, to clarify. That was Palestine I described just now. Israel is fairly nice in most places. Eilat is a bit of a bore, but I enjoyed Tiberias and Nazareth, Haifa and Jaffa. I take my black and white film to a shop on Ben Yehuda Street in downtown West Jerusalem. They know I live in the West Bank. They care not. They like my photographs and we discuss techniques and filters and the like. I eat at a nearby bagel shop each time I go, and they’re quick to forgive that I don’t speak Hebrew. Sometimes I go to pubs and clubs to meet Israelis or Americans studying at Hebrew University. They teach me a bit of Jewish culture, and I enlighten them about what really goes on behind the Green Line. There is very rarely animosity. Just conversation. But still you say I am no longer welcome in Israel. I left Egypt a day early because I read on the Internet that my village has been blockaded. On the main road from Ramallah to Birzeit, via two other villages, the pavement has been bulldozed; destroyed on either side of an intersecting bypass road that allows the Jewish settlers of nearby Bet El to travel directly to Israel. On either side of this largely unused thoroughfare the road has been turned into a trench, exposing pipes and ground lines, with heaps of earth and broken concrete at each end. The alternate road north from Ramallah, through the Jalazone refugee camp, has likewise been torn up. No vehicle can travel from Ramallah to its northern neighboring villages. A taxi can take you from Ramallah center to the first trench; you may walk across under surveillance of tank, jeep, and sniper (with flares at night), and catch a waiting taxi beyond the last earthen mound. And I returned from Egypt to find that all of this is True. You are doing an exemplary job of trying to convince me that I am no longer welcome in Israel. But you haven’t yet swayed me. Electricity has been restored to the villages, but no supply trucks can come from Ramallah to restock the shops in these small towns. Chickens, eggs, bread, some vegetables, dry and canned goods we’ll never run out of. To a point each village is self-subsistent, and I don’t fear we’ll ever fall behind that point. We have several pharmacies in Birzeit, and a doctor with a little black doctor’s bag who works out of his home. He can set a broken arm and relieve flu symptoms. What will happen when the first elderly man suffers a heart attack on the wrong side of the blockade? What about the inevitable pregnant woman who goes into labor at four in the morning? My own Arabic professor couldn’t take his boy with a 102 temperature to a hospital in Ramallah. This is not a new phenomenon to occupied Palestine. But it’s the first to affect my home during the Intifada. The community is down but not out. I’m sorry, but you have failed to convince me that I am no longer welcome. I know that you will not give up trying. In all likelihood this blockade is a step in the direction of unilateral separation – Ariel Sharon’s obtuse solution to a hypersensitive problem. Ahlan wa sahlan, they all tell me around here. Come in for Turkish coffee and chocolates. The situation may or may not get worse, but they can’t beat us all. We are human like them. Now we celebrate the holiday of Eid Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice (referring to the Biblical and Qur’anic story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac). Please come in, you are welcome. Persona non grata? You must have mistaken me for someone else. -Richard

2016-10-24T07:35:57+00:00 March 9th, 2001|Categories: News|