Amal Othman with Interfaith Peace-Builders

“Do You Have Family Here?”

Interfaith Peace-Builders, October 29, 2009

As expected, all 31 delegates went through passport control at Ben Gurion airport in Israel with no hassles. Except for me.

I am a U.S. citizen, and yet I was questioned by four different airport officers.

Racial profiling? My name is Amal Othman, my country of birth is Jordan, and my parents are Palestinian refugees. I handed my American passport to the young Israeli officer and right away, she asked me for my father’s full name. Without any hesitation, she got up out of her booth, and said: “follow me”. I took a deep breath, smiled, and walked behind her. I was so relieved when I noticed Mike (one of IFPB leaders) walking right next to me. We were escorted to a waiting area, and it did not take long before I was called in for questioning.

What is your father’s full name? What is your mother’s full name? Where were they born? What is your “hamoula” (clan) name? How old are they? Where do they live now? Have you been to Israel before? Do you have family here? Why did you come here? With whom? How did you become a U.S. citizen? And the questions continued.

I was then taken to a different waiting area, with lots of other people, mostly Arabs, a Turkish couple, and an Asian woman. We, Mike and I, waited for a while, perhaps 15 minutes or so. I was then called by another officer who took me to a different room, questioned me again, same exact questions.

The scenario repeated itself four times, like a broken record.

The Israeli officers were trying to find records of my parents and their family history. I learned later that the Israeli government has kept records of every Palestinian family, village, city, land and olive trees. They were searching for my status to determine if I pose a threat to Israel as a refugee returning to reclaim ownership of Palestinian property or if any of my family participated in the Arab revolt of 1936.

My parents were not found in their database! It was just a game of inconvenience. I stayed calm, polite and cooperative. After an hour or so, I was granted entry.