I don’t know about you…but when I think of Freedom of Speech, or more accurately, the lack of it, I think of places like China where journalists are arrested and imprisoned for criticising the Chinese government. Egypt takes a strong second place.
With my trip to Palestine my main worry wasn’t the danger, my main worry has always been whether I would be able to make it through security at the airport and again at checkpoints into Palestine. As Palestine has walls surrounding it, the only way in is by checkpoint. Again, the image of an open prison floods my mind.
For weeks I’ve known what I was to say to the person in their little cube, who looks as if the world dealt them a massive injustice, and now they’ve to get back at the rest of us. Even the night before I traveled Timmy Hammersley, my ‘guide on the Irish side’ had me practicing what I was to say;
“What is your reason for traveling to Israel?”
“I’m here as a tourist, just to visit religious sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem”
“Are you going to visit Palestine?”
To get into Israel, to get a visa at the airport I have to lie. I have to pretend that everything is hunky-dory and I’m just a wee girl from Ireland out on a little adventure for two weeks. Not only that, but I had to delete my Facebook and Twitter page for fear they’d see videos I’ve shared of Palestine. I was also advised to wear a cross, as to add to the story. All this irks me.
There have been recent cases of volunteers being denied visas into the country. Not even volunteers, but citizens of countries which have taken a stand against Israel have been denied visas into the country. Sweden especially. Israel are making it more and more difficult for internationals to enter Palestine. They are trying to isolate Palestinians from the rest of the world. It’s clear they don’t want the world to see what’s going on.
I flew yesterday from Dublin to Istanbul in Turkey. The flight flew (excuse the pun) as I met two friendly fellow passangers who were enthralled in my reasons for traveling. One was going to Cairo to visit a friend for a few days and the other was traveling onto Iran to perform. We also met King Geoffrey (Jack Gleeson) from Game of Thrones on our flight! I was of course, a nervous mess trying to say hi and ask for a photo!
Strangely I was questioned in Turkey as to why I was going to Israel. I hadn’t expected that and I’m not quite sure what angle they were taking but I had my spiel ready. They weren’t satisfied and studied my passport. I think my Irish surname threw them a little. No one else seemed to get the same treatment.
I arrived in Tel Aviv airport, checked my Facebook was still disabled and nervously began to approach the security. As I had predicted, a sour looking Israeli woman greeted me. Not only did she ask why I was in Israel but for how long, where I was staying and with who. Again I was ready and even had a name and an address prepared. She continued to ask why I was in Israel and how did I expect to see holy sites for two weeks. The last time I was here we got the holy sites done in a day! The question that threw me the most was “and how do you know the person you’re staying with?” I lied through my teeth! Had I said how I really knew this person there would be no hope of me getting through! “We have mutual friends and she visited Ireland two or three years ago. We’ve stayed in touch since.” I got the glare and she threw me my passport and my visa. I was through.
I’m now sitting on the floor of Ben Gurion airport, watching all the ‘normal’ people go by. I’m actually stunned by how ‘normal’ they look. Instead of feeling like I’m in the Middle East, it’s more like Eastern Europe! However, unlike Europe, there isn’t a single Arab in sight. Then I’m jolted back to reality when over the speakers, in Hebrew and in English a friendly voice states that “carrying weapons is prohibited in the airport.”
‘Tis a long way from Ballyea you are girlie!