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Rose Espinola , Student, University of Jordan , 29 July 2008
I am an Australian citizen, born and raised in Australia. My mother is originally Palestinian and however has been an Australian citizen since the 1970s.
On the 15th of June, 2008, I flew from London to Tel Aviv. I arrived before seven in the morning. Upon arrival at the immigration gate at the Ben Gurion Airport, I was asked a couple of questions, the last two were, – “What is the place of your fathers birth?”, “Argentina” I answered; “Where is the place of your mother’s birth?”, “Palestine” I answered. Upon hearing this, the woman at the counter immediately picked up the phone and started talking in Hebrew very abruptly; all I could understand were the words of my last name and “Palestinian”.
She then told me I had to wait, and was sent to talk to another immigration officer. Over the space of ten hours I was to be interviewed at least three times, by three different people asking me largely the same questions.
I answered all the questions they asked me truthfully, and gave them some information as they requested. I sought entry to Israel in order to see my family and get in touch with my culture. They asked me if I was involved in any other organisations. I explained to them that I am a student in my home University in Australia and informed them of my activities in Australia as a student and full time worker prior to my travel to Israel. I have not been involved in anything political. Throughout the time the staff moved me from the one desk to the other, and then to the waiting room.
During my further questioning, one particular man continued to insinuate that there was more to my story than I was telling him, he kept saying, “Who else are you involved with in Palestine? Who else do you know? Maybe you donÂ’t know what they are involved in? Maybe they asked you to do something while you are here or asked you to bring something?”. I don’t know anyone in the region besides my family, in whom I gave him the details of. I told him what he was implying was absurd and that I had given him all the information he requested. I genuinely have not been involved in anything the least bit political. He kept asking me for more information and kept implying that he knew something I wasn’t telling him, he even attempted to gain my opinion about the occupation. After much scrutiny, I said to him that I had told him all that he asked and that I didn’t have anything more to add.
At one stage during the day after being left waiting again for some hours, I returned to the reception desk to speak this interviewer to enquire about why I was continually held up. He told me that they were still ‘researching’ me and that he was ninety eight percent sure that I was not a risk; he said that it was just ‘that two percent’ that was holding me up. I assured him once again that I am not involved in anything political and was genuinely just seeking a tourist visa. I assured him that he could do all the reference checks possible and he could only see that, as it was the truth.
It was a long day. I understood that this could happen, so I did not let it get me upset, and for some reason I felt that the last thing I wanted to do in that situation was to let the Israeli staff see that their unreasonable interrogations were getting to me.
I was in the airport from before seven in the morning only to be deported on a flight at 5pm back to London at my own expense. By the time I got back to London I had not slept for over forty eight hours. I was exhausted.
I spent most of the hours that day from 7am to 5pm in the waiting room, and saw many others waiting there, mostly from Arab backgrounds, it was the same story with them. My family members were waiting for me outside the airport all day, I did not have access to contact my family as my mobile was not available, and they would not let me contact anyone, even to let my sister know I was returning to London or to book a hotel, as I would arrive in Heathrow after 10pm.
On reflection, it is clear to me that it was already decided from the moment that I told them my mother was born in Palestine, that I would not be permitted to enter Israel. Regardless of what I said, it didn’t matter. I told them everything that they asked and there was genuinely no reason for denying me a visa.
After I arrived back to London, I sought advice on how I may possibly pre-arrange a visa from the Israeli Embassy. After the long wait entering the embassy, the woman there was very rude to me, and told me that there is “no way possible” that I could get a visa to go to the Palestinian territories. She told me that the most I could do is to write a letter to the Consulate General requesting a visa, but then informed me if I wrote the letter, she would pass it on to her alongside her advice against granting me a visa.
I felt quite frustrated at the system. I felt I should have a right to visit my mother’s country and that I was being unfairly discriminated against. Naively, it surprised me that they were so intent to do anything possible to deny my entry. I reminded myself that this short experience is a small fraction of what Palestinians experience on a regular basis due to the attitude and behaviour of the Israelis. My denial into Israel was clearly not a clerical issue or problematic of my history as an individual, it was due to my heritage.
I am an open minded person who would like to contribute to more cross cultural understanding. Through my education, as I am now qualified in Australian Migration law and have been studying International Relations; I am expanding on my knowledge to enable me to assist in relations do what I can to bridge differences in culture and politics in the future. However I can see in regard to that situation that it was not a matter of common sense or security. You can feel that, you can see that. It was not a matter of a reasonable intent to travel to Israel, but blatant discrimination and disrespect. There is no reason why someone such as me should be so overtly and unnecessarily interrogated and treated with so much suspicion only to be denied entry to Israel, other than the fact I am the descendant of a Palestinian, which should not be a reason for denial at all.