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Arab-American Journalist Detained by Israeli Security for ‘Flying While Muslim’

Noor Wazwaz with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama (via Facebook).

Noor Wazwaz with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner, April 2015 (via Facebook).

It is well known in the Arab community in Israel that “Flying While Muslim” will earn you extra security checks and delayed travel. Palestinian-American journalist Noor Wazwaz shared her experience of flying into Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport across her social media channels, where she has more than 28,000 followers.

Wazwaz, who says her goal is become “the first Muslim hijab [head scarf]-wearing news anchor on American television,” decided to become a journalist to better represent “[the] Arab and Muslim voice in Western media.”

She shared her travail of entering Israel this week in order to get to Palestine, the most expedient way to arrive internationally; far quicker than landing in Amman, Jordan, and driving to the Israel-controlled West Bank. Wazwaz reports that she was detained for more than four hours, followed by an interrogation by Israeli security personnel who accused her family of terrorist activity based on national and ethnic origin. Wazwaz was flying on an American passport.

On Instagram, Wazwaz recalls her experience, saying that the humiliation she was subjected to at the border would not stop her from returning to Palestine:

We arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel and at passport control, the woman checks our passports and points to a room to the right and says to me, "You know the procedure." For many who've traveled to Israel know this "VIP room" very well. They take your passport. You sit. You wait… And wait…and wait… and wait…and wait. After four hours in this "VIP room"… I get called into my second interrogation. I walked in, smiled and said hello. The interrogator said, "Wipe that smile off your face. Spit out your gum. And you better cooperate with me." I've done these interrogations every time I've traveled here but NOTHING was like this. He asked why I was here… I explained that I was here with two other students and that we are working with journalism students in Ramallah. He shook his head, made smart remarks, yelled at me and didn't believe a word I said. He asked about my family here in Jerusalem and gave him my uncles' names. "Which one of them is a terrorist?" he looked up at me and smirked. I couldn't help but bust out a laugh at how absurd this question was. "You think I'm joking? I'm not joking," he yelled as he slammed the table. I replied, "Well…none of them are." He laughed,"And your cousins? How many are in prison?" I am at loss for words and I wish I could express how I feel right now. The power control, the ego, the mind games, the hate, the humiliation. Disgusting. All this so I, we Palestinians, never come back again. But I'll keep coming back for as long as I live.

A photo posted by Noor F. Wazwaz (@nfwazwaz) on

On Wazwaz's social media accounts, friends and followers reached out to express support and solidarity, commiserating on similar experiences. On Instagram, Arwa Sarsour writes

Welcome to the club, we all have to go through it young and old same question same room u can't go to the bathroom with out someone behind u and hours and hours of waiting.

On Facebook, where her post has garnered 4,000 likes and almost 800 shares at time of writing. Follower Ahlam Abutineh shares

Just moved to Ramallah/al Bireh from Florida where I was born and raised my whole life. I have my Palestinian passport so I have to come through Jordan as I've done the last 3 years. They hassle, hassle, make u wait wait wait, throw ur bags, make u find them, bus to bus- making a 30 min travel home end up being all night… They can't turn us away. More people need to keep coming no matter how tiring it is.

Ph Sima Ghnaim, who is also North American although not a Palestinian passport holder, writes of similar treatment: 

You are amazing …. They make me wait for 6 hours each time I visit Palestine just cause I'm Arabic I don't have a Palestinian passport. I wish I did but even with a Canadian one they treat me with the utmost disdain and hate.

And Maria M. Jaber Khalil questions how Israeli security's treatment of American citizens holding dual Palestinian citizenship can be legal or accepted pro forma by the United States, arguing:

The most ridiculous thing about all this their computer system has all your personal information plus all your families and their extended family names, children,where everyone is living. And it's also linked with the USA, so why all the questions you ask humiliation, because they can regardless if you re in American citizen or not. The last my husband went he was sent to the VIP room he waiting 6 hours he is also an American citizen, when you tell them you will report them to the Embassy they just laugh in your face and say so what America can't do anything we own them. Sad but true…. Sad and frustrated with our government. 

To those who have never experienced humiliation at the hands of border control, Shireen Nasser‘s description touches at the humanity of the experience.

As many times as we all try to tell the stories to others, they really can never imagine what a mental manipulation it all is until they've experienced it. It's such a form of degradation and oppression beyond what has ever been taught in any history book.

Other commenters allude to the highly controversial Right of Return, which states that the descendants of Palestinian refugees who were expelled in the 1948 War — which Israelis call the War of Independence and Palestinians call the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) — should be able to return to the land and claim their original property. An estimated 30,000-50,000 original Palestinian emigrants now have family numbering 5 million worldwide. The Right of Return has been a sticking point in peace negotiations, yet to be resolved.

As a counterpart, Israeli Jews demand recognition for the 1 million Jews who were expelled from Arab lands as a result of the establishment of the State of Israel, who, like the 1948 Palestinians, were forced to leave their property and assets at home and whose value was then absorbed by their subsequent states for significant economic gain.

Instagram user Enasjudeh enthuses:

… I would endure that a million times to visit that beautiful country!

While Rehab Eid, a self-identified Muslim Palestinian New Yorker, claims:

Arrival in Palestine: Wazwaz captions this photo, "Good Morning, Ramallah" (via Facebook).

Arrival in Palestine: Wazwaz captions this photo, “Good Morning from Ramallah” (via Facebook).

They think that'll stop us from coming back, but we just get stronger!

Echoing the popular sentiment, Beesan Arouri asserts

They can do all they want but we'll always go back.

As for Wazwaz herself, you can follow her journey in Palestine through her frequent updates.

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  • Tigger

    I flew from London Stansted to Istanbul last December. I fly out there every year to go to a festival in central Turkey, but this year my passage though airport security was a bit different. As I walked through the gate it bleeped. “Underwired bra.” I grinned.
    “No!” said sourface. “It’s your hat. Put it in the tray.”
    Oh , of course – it had to be my FREE PALESTINE badge. I’d quite forgotten it was there.
    “Now your shoes.” So I took them off and put them in the tray. “And that!” pointing to the fabric flower I had pinned on my chest.
    “Take it off and put it in the tray.” I did so.
    “Now stand in the scanner with your hands above your head – like this.” I did as directed.
    “You’re clear! Go through.” Such disappointment in her voice and body language.
    I grinned and walked though. “someone really should tell you” i said “that we old women like to hang on to life.”

  • NickDavisGB

    Unfortunately there are arseholes in every culture, and they tend to gravitate to the same sort of jobs. Generally the sort that require no higher education, a bit of power, little oversight and give them excuse to bully with impunity.

  • Jørgen Nielsen

    “An estimated 30,000-50,000 original Palestinian emigrants now have family numbering 5 million worldwide.”. The number 750.000 seems to be the most accepted number of palestinians that were subjected to etnic cleansing in 1948. Also bear in mind that Israel asked the jews of the arab world to come to Israel. No country asked the palestinians to come, live there.

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