From the checkpoint at Qalandiya (which divides Ramallah from Jerusalem) to the West Bank towns of Nablus and Hebron, racial profiling is rife in Palestine. Palestinians going about their daily errands will be stopped, asked to produce ID, to state their business and to be made to feel like a foreigner in their own country. Put simply, to be a Palestinian in Palestine makes you a suspect for any and every past, present and future crime.
I am in Hebron. It is the middle of the afternoon and there is a lone Palestinian walking down the street. He has entered an area of the city in which many Israeli Jews live. His presence automatically draws the attention of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) personnel. He is asked to produce his ID and state his reasoning for walking in that particular location. He does not argue; he does not protest. This is not new to him. It’s the norm when one is a Palestinian.
He is made to wait while the IDF soldiers radios back to their units to check that his ID is valid. The check could take five minutes or it could take forty five minutes. It really depends on the attitude of the IDF personnel, both the officer detaining him and the one checking the validity of his ID back at the unit’s head quarters. So he simply waits (and waits). He is not alone for long. While he waits, the IDF personnel detain another two Palestinians who happen to be walking pass. The same procedure starts over.
All this for trying to make your way home, to meet with friends or going – heaven forgive! – for a leisurely walk. It is not a situation you can escape; it is simply something you have to accept, for as long as you are a Palestinian you will be a suspect.
Few visitors to Palestine have to endure such treatment. Most have lighter-coloured skin and lighter-coloured hair. In most Palestinian cities, the complexion of visitors would make them noticeable among a crowd of local people, but in the eyes of the IDF they simply assimilate into the background. They are not Palestinian and hence they never arouse suspicions.
Even travelling in a group with international visitors does not provide a moment of reprieve for any Palestinian. Your presence as a Palestinian raises suspicion; there is no escaping it.
Travelling from Ramallah to Taybeh, I received a small, firsthand insight as to what Palestinians have to endure on daily basis.
There were three of us in the car. I am of southern Mediterranean descent. I was in the back seat. The driver was a Filipino American; in the front passenger seat was an American with a light complexion. In the distance we could see the Israeli Police flagging down drivers as they approached. We slowed down as directed.
The Israeli police officer looked inside our vehicle. He looked at the driver, and then his gaze shifted to the front seat passenger. He glimpsed me and seemed satisfied. Nothing roused any suspicion. He began to direct us to move along. Then he looked back at me and directed us to move our vehicle to the side. His stance stiffened. He called another police officer (who carried a large gun slung across his body) to make his way over to assist him.
With the second glance at me, he had noticed my darker skin and hair. I had raised suspicion. How? Why? Simple! I looked Palestinian (Arab), and I was automatically a suspect.
We were directed to present our passports. He took a momentary glance at the passports of my two American companions in the front of the vehicle. They, however, were not suspected of anything. The questions were saved for me. I handed him my passport and then the questions followed:
What was I doing travelling in the area? I was travelling to visit a local Palestinian village up the road.
Where was I from? What city exactly? I told him my hometown, doubting he had ever heard of such a small city.
Nonetheless, he seemed satisfied. His tone quickly changed. His stance softened. He became jovial. He even made a joke, and then sent us on our way.
I am an international visitor to Palestine. When this became apparent, the hostility evaporated. But for a brief moment I was seen as a Palestinian and so I raised suspicions.
It was a situation that I could escape, a status that I am not burdened to carry.
While international visitors take their leave from Gaza, Palestinians remain behind. They have no way of escape. Those that are not involved in the fighting are left to seek shelter and safety within the confines of Gaza while the missiles rain down. Their crime? They are Palestinians in Palestine. It is their being a Palestinian in Palestine that continues to burden their lives and threaten their existence.
But why? It is simple: even in Palestine, every Palestinian is a suspect.