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|No Such thing as a Muslim Tourist|
|12/05/05 at 01:21:05|
To be fair my boss non-jew. Did tell me that he and his wife underwent an insane amount of checking when entering Israel, his wife was strip searched because the metal detetors kept going off...apparantly she had sequins on her underwear which was setting of the metal detectors!! :o
I recently went to visit Israel/Palestine. I have drafted a few words on my interesting experience at Ben Gurion Airport. You might be interested in printing it:
There is no such thing as a Muslim tourist
Recently, I set out as a tourist to the holy land with the intention to pray at the Noble Sanctuary, visit historical sites, and also visit what are considered to be the occupied territories.
My flight with Al-Italia went via Milan, where I boarded a plane full of Jewish people headed for the holy land. I expect some of the passengers may have felt some unease, but this dissipated once I started chatting to people.
The flight arrived into Ben Gurion at 2.45am Sunday 23rd October. As soon as I walked into the airport I was pulled to the side. Questions were the usual purpose of visit, place of stay, duration of visit, other people etc. etc. This finished with a 'welcome to Israel'.
After a five minute walk through this modern 1 year old airport I lined up for passport control. When my turn came, two questions were asked - what is your religion and where were you born? After answering the questions (Islam and Pakistan) a member of security took me to a waiting area.
A young Israeli lady took some questions from me and went into a room. There were other people in the waiting area too, but she came back to me again after 40 minutes and asked some more questions. After one more round of questions, I continued waiting till around 5am when finally 4 men asked me to follow them into a room.
All my luggage was checked thoroughly. I underwent a semi-strip search - with a full check for metal implants in my legs and under my arms. During this time I have to say they were very courteous, given the circumstances. Finally the Ministry of Defence official walks in, and he is told that nothing has been found. He looked a little disappointed as if he was expecting to find something.
Then, Sammy, the Ministry of Defence official turned to me and said, "Mr. Raja you are going to be my guest for a little while."
Sammy led me through a number of corridors and doors, through the airport, into an isolated office, which had a desk, a computer, a telephone and a photograph of Ariel Sharon and Ben Gurion (Israel's founding father) on the wall.
Sammy offered me a coffee and I declined politely. He took this as a sign of my character and said "you are like Hamas, I have interviewed many of them and they also do not drink coffee with the kuffaar (saying this word in a brazenly manner). That is what you think of us right?"
I thought, yikes, heavy, chill out buddy, "actually it is Ramadan and I am fasting." Sammy inquired suspiciously, "what you are travelling, you have not slept, and it is very hot in Israel and your are fasting?" He was trying to gauge my level of religiosity and compare that with the many Hamas members he had come across.
After further discussion and analysis of the contents of my bag, wallet, etc, he got to the point, "Mr. Raja let me tell you something - I do not believe there is such a concept as a Muslim tourist. You have come here alone, for a short time claiming you are a tourist; you have left your young family at home, it is the month of Ramadan and you're travelling, you come from Britain which is sprawling with Jihadis, we have bombs and shootings here everyday, and you want to visit the occupied territories? what could you possibly be coming here for?"
Well I did my best to respond to these queries, but he continued, "You believe Jihad is the highest level of religion? If you don't then you are not a Muslim! You believe that it is obligatory for you to subjugate the Jews and the Christians!" He even spurted out some Arabic, mentioned treaties that occurred in the 7th century and continued to provoke a response from me.
This type of questioning continued for hours, and I kept giving my answers. Sammy would enter all this information into a computer. He became more personal and wanted names of friends, family, local Mosque, the charity I donated to, the frequency with which I visited the Mosque, how I became religious etc etc.
Another four hours had passed; I was thirsty, sleepy and needed to pee, what a combination. Then came the breakthrough; Sammy told me he liked me, and that would let me in to Israel if I could give him a good character reference, who he could call up right now. I asked, "Do I have to?" he replied, "The process will be sped up significantly" I took a deep breath and said "You can speak to my boss, he is Jewish, visits Israel regularly and I have worked for him for 4 years. He also has a brother living in Israel who knows I am coming and might meet up with me"
Sammy looked at me, eyes wide open and said "why did you not mention this right at the beginning?" I replied "Five hours ago, it was too early to get my boss out of bed on a Sunday ? wouldn't you agree?"
About one hour later, once the calls were made and the paperwork complete I was led out of the airport. Sammy advised me not to get embroiled in any situation, or be influenced by certain people. He also said some other things, which I better not print.
Anyway, I headed to the hotel via taxi that was driven by an Iraqi Jew - very nice chap in fact. I freshened up, headed into the Old City and it was not too short a time afterwards that 'Allah' guided me to the Noble Sanctuary.
Atif Raja is a development economist and political analyst. He is associated with the Beyond Group, a forum for innovative thought.
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