What’s your father’s name?
What’s your grandfather’s name?
My dad’s dad or my mom’s dad?
Islam (Thinks to self – f*ckkkkkkkk).
I’d have to repeat the answers to these questions three more times before getting to Tel Aviv.
As a solo female traveler, whom happens to be a practicing Muslim, alhamdulilah, I was a bit worried landing and entering Ben-Gurion Airport, in Israel. My non-Muslim and non-practicing acquaintances have all shared somewhat unpleasant stories about their entry and departure trips to/from Israel, so I was just anticipating the unnerving process.
We went through a second security check at our gate at JFK right before taking off and boarding our plane. That was the easy part. I had a somewhat pleasant flight on Delta’s non-stop, and exiting the gate didn’t take too long. When I entered passport control, that’s when I would get delayed. I was asked the above questions, and upon answering was told to go to a back corner for ‘further conversations’.
I expected this y’all. Truly. So, I took my carry-on and went back there, hoping this would be easy, and was asked the same questions. I was then asked to write down my email address and phone number on a piece of paper. I waited until a female officer called my name and escorted me into a back office, where the door was shut, I was asked to take a seat at her desk, and then was asked a series of intrusive questions. I was calm, polite, and pleasant. I wasn’t scared because I had nothing to hide, and I didn’t stray from the religious questions. I was honest and willing to share anything. However, it was exhausting. I felt like I was victim to a crime I didn’t even realize existed.
I’m saying this now, as a reminder to myself, mostly, but I’m very lucky to have been raised in America. I’ve never been so scrutinized before. I count my blessings that I live a safe life and never have to worry about a bomb being thrown my way, or wearing a hijab resulting in stares that make me uncomfortable here, in the states. I’ve never been violated or disrespected before. I’m an open person, so I didn’t think of me answering these questions as anything besides annoying, since I wanted to start my vacation already, but my friend, who went through a similar interrogation, felt completely violated. It was against all personal codes of privacy we have the privilege of maintaining as American citizens. It was absurd, honestly. If you did your research on me, you know whether or not I’m a threat. And if I was, you wouldn’t hesitate to send me back home, so why the torturous process? I have my theories..
Back to my “interrogation”. She sat down and began this insane jabbing of questions – questions I couldn’t believe I was asked (outside of where I lived and what I did for a living). My favorite part of our interaction is when she asked if I was visiting alone, to which I replied in the affirmative:
Are you traveling alone?
Yes, but my couple friend is joining me tomorrow.
Where are they now?
Why aren’t you in Turkey with them?
Because I don’t want to be.
(Looks at me with a pause, so I continue)
I’ve already been there.
Where are they from?
What kind of passports do they have?
(Wtf?!) Um, I don’t know.
You don’t know?
No. Could be Bosnian, could be American. I don’t know.
Will you all be returning to the states together?
No, they’re going back to Turkey afterwards to pick up their kids before returning to America.
It must be nice to drop off your kids with a babysitter while you go vacation in another country.
It’s even nicer when you DON’T have kids to worry about vacationing with in the first place.
I laughed. This still makes me laugh – haha. I realize she may have been a mother, but I didn’t care.
The questions kept being thrown my way, but it was at a specific moment that I absolutely knew they had already flagged me before arriving and this wasn’t random at all. How did I know? It was when I was asked this simple question – What organizations do you give money to/volunteer for?
I may be naive in a lot of ways, y’all, but I understood RIGHT AWAY. They knew I was Muslim, before they asked me. They knew I practiced Islam, before they asked me. And they knew I volunteered for Islamic Relief, before they asked me. You see, I helped raise funds and volunteered for a Palestinian event Islamic Relief held months ago. It was no coincidence that they totally disregarded the fact that I’ve volunteered for and donated to the Food Bank of New York and The Red Cross. They were only interested in follow-up questions on Islamic Relief. I just knew.
They also asked me what Imam I ‘listen’ to. I answered with the first thought that came to mind – my father.
Your father is an imam? :type type type:
Yes. :type type type:
Is your father a Sunni or a Shiite?
Sunni. : type type type:
At the end of all the questioning, after looking through my Instagram, looking through my phone and the apps on my phone, I was told to wait outside the room for my passport. Okay. To all my travelers, is it not the scariest feeling not having your passport on you at the airport of a country you’re visiting? I hated waiting. And to make matters more unsettling, there was a gentleman from Nigeria in the waiting room seated near me whom asked to use a phone charger. He started conversing and told me he was visiting Israel through a program. He then said Israel was sending him back. I’m listening to this, after feeling like I’d been interrogated, not having my passport on me, and the minutes just escape with delusion. It’s not easy to imagine how your mind gets carried away if you’re locked away and secluded (I’m thinking along prison cells/solitary confinement). It’s unnerving.
But, alas, my name was called and I was handed back my passport, free to start my journey in what would be my most disturbing, yet favorite trip, thus far.
P.S. If you want to hear every question they asked, please let me know and I will share.
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