Professor Kemal Hawwash with his wife and 5-year old son. Fears he will never see his Palestinian family again.
On 7 April, I travelled with my wife, Lina, and my five-year-old son, Adam, to Palestine to spend Easter with family and friends, mainly in Attur, East Jerusalem.
In the late afternoon, we arrived at Tel Aviv airport and made our way to passport control. I was asked about the purpose of my journey which I explained. A minute later, an officer arrived to take me away for questioning while my wife, who holds a Jerusalem ‘residency’ ID card and my son, traveling on a British passport, were told they could go through.
I explained that they would wait for me while I was questioned and they were directed to a waiting room near passport control, one with which we are very familiar.
The first officer asked me a couple of questions and directed me back to the waiting room for a colleague of his to call me in soon after that. He was clearly waiting for me as my name was clearly on a list of ‘problem people’. He did not accept that I was on a family visit, not a political one, and told me that I ‘have a problem’.
I stated that I saw PSC as a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli policy organisation rather than an anti-Israel organisation. He did not accept that
He asked me if I knew about the new law banning those that promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset last month. I explained that I did. In fact, I wrote about my views on this in Middle East Eye at the time.
He then asked if I was involved in any “anti-Israel” organisation. I explained that I was involved in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and had been vice chair until last January. I stated that I saw PSC as a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli policy organisation rather than an anti-Israel organisation. He did not accept that.
He then referred to a pile of papers printed in Hebrew and claimed they were some of my tweets. He claimed that I called Palestinian terrorists shaheeds (martyrs). Since I do not read Hebrew, I could not comment on any specific tweet and I asked for him to produce the tweets in English, which he did not.
We then had a long conversation (about half an hour) about the situation and the lack of hope for Palestinians and the reasons for the lack of peace – just the sort of discussion with Israelis that denying entry to those who are working for peace will prevent as a result of this new law.
I soon realised that the officer was going to deny me entry, especially when rather than giving me the entry visa slip, he started printing out documents. He confirmed that I was to be denied entry and then asked me the most difficult question of the day: “Will your wife return with you or go through?”
I told my wife that I would not be allowed in. She could not believe this and broke down
He even said, “Of course your wife is an Israeli citizen, so she can go through.” My wife is not an Israeli citizen but a stateless person, made stateless by Israel. In addition to her Jerusalem “residency” permit, she has an Israeli travel document and a Jordanian travel document for travel outside her homeland. I told him I would ask her what she wanted to do and was taken back to the waiting room.
Five-year-old Adam tries to comfort his mum, Lina. No-one anticipated that sympathy for Palestinians was sufficient reason for denial of entry. (MEE/Kamel Hawwash)
As I returned to the room, my wife shuffled in her seat to get herself ready. She thought I had been given an entry visa until I told her that I would not be allowed n. She could not believe this and broke down. My son was bewildered, but ran to hug his mum who was weeping.
I, of course, was never going to deny my wife the opportunity to go home to see her family and so, about an hour later, she left with my son and I was left reflecting on what had just happened.
I contacted the British Embassy for help, but none was forthcoming. However, my local MP Richard Burden very kindly contacted the embassy in Tel Aviv and I had a call back from the British Consul who wanted to ensure that I was ok and that I could contact him if my situation changed.
A couple of hours before my flight, I was taken for a full body search. But this was not about security: it was about humiliation
I then waited for my flight which was not until 5am on 8 April. A couple of hours before that, I was taken for a full body search. It is interesting that the state which sells technology to other states resorted to a body search of someone who had been through security in Birmingham and Brussels and had not exited the airport.
But this was not about security: it was about humiliation, something Israel is a world expert at and which it has been meting out to Palestinians since its creation.