For weeks I obsessed and planned and strategized about what may happen in Israel when I enter with three other women to explore partner organizations associated with Grassroots International and to do my own personal brand of research, solidarity work, and visitation. I spoke with friends who had gotten in, friends who were deported as “dangers to the state,” civil rights lawyers in the US and Israel. I expunged all incriminating evidence from my computer and loaded my itinerary and contacts into the cloud. For days my dreams were weird and obsessive and I could not shake this low level nausea and back spasm. I debated entering through, (not for our nice Jewish brethren), Jordan and the Allenby Bridge or just striding confidently into Ben Gurion Airport with my classic Jewish face and iron clad Jewish name, hoping to pass as another Jewish grandmother returning to the homeland.
And then there were my traveling partners: all American citizens, but one born in Korea and one born in Haiti and one Latina whose family comes from Mexico, (her name starts with “Al” which could clearly trigger some anxious 20 year old with a gun who sees an Arab hiding under every cactus); all of them worried about being singled out as non-Jewish people “of color.” And all of us all worried about being targeted as human rights activists and supporters of the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement (BDS). Perhaps after a day of travel and weird airplane food, we would all end up in a holding cell somewhere deep in the bowels of the airport with a crowd of Sudanese asylum seekers or Thai ladies who have overstayed their visas, waiting for the next plane home. The paranoid imagination is a powerful force.
So, I put on the Jewish star my friend’s daughter got for her Bat Mitzvah (the tribal I am OK you’re OK signature) and took a deep breath as I descended from Turkish Airlines, no longer anxious about the airport in Istanbul, and got on line for internationals, trying to appear calm and annoyed by my pounding heart. To my joy and surprise, the interaction with passport control was short and sweet and the young woman actually told one of my traveling partners to “be careful in Gaza.”
Waiting for our fourth partner, I watched the waves of happy birthright type college students, Spartans for Israel, flocks of Koreans coming in like the tide, sprinklings of Hassids and Modern Orthodox, the women in nicely coiffed wigs, makeup, and long black dresses, their husbands smartly dressed with peyos and black hats. The bust of Ben Gurion with his massive almost hydrocephalic head and Cadillac winged hair stared across the hall at a serious Yitzhak Rabin. The arrivals came from Istanbul, Milan, Tbilisi, Paris, Seoul, Addis Ababa, London, Tashkent. Lovers kissed and expectant relations held blue and white helium balloons festooned with the Star of David and “Welcome To Israel,” and the high ceiling was dotted with escaped balloons like so many Jewish outposts and settlements popping up in the West Bank.
I was feeling relieved and happy, a trickle of warmth towards the whole bureaucratic disorder seeped into my brain.
So we schlepped our bags (filled with things like books and crayons and puzzles and Grassroots tee shirts) out to the curb to find a sherut to Jerusalem and that is where the troubles began. I admit it may have been my fault because I looked at the driver I thought was next in line and then his boss intervened and suddenly driver A let out a stream of Ma! Ma! Ma! (What! What! What! in Hebrew) and there ensued a frighteningly loud, angry outburst and major screaming episode accompanied by hostile body language and fierce glares regarding who was to take the next passengers. I watched in bleary eyed surprise and horror; quickly my thoughts reflected on this man with his obvious anger management disorder, his probable mandatory military service, the growing levels of PTSD and domestic violence that are the fallout a of militarized society, the fact that more Israelis die in car accidents than combat, the rising poverty and loss of the social safety net in the neoliberal world of Netanyahu. Soon, I retreated into my travel in Israel shell, wary of such easily triggered public displays by furious young men, hoping he (unlike many men in civilian garb) does not carry a gun.