Letters From Palestine--Phillip D'Onofrio
My good friend Doris Colmes introduced me to Phillip D’Onofrio about a year and a half ago. Phillip is another resident of Portland, Or. He is also one incredible man. Last year Phillip decided to go to Israel and Palestine. He wanted to see for himself what was really going on there. He had pretty much gotten tired and fed up with all the conflicting reports about the situation the Palestinians are faced with. The three months he was there Phillip went way past being an observer as more than once he put himself between Israeli troops and Palestinians—once coming real close to being shot when a bullet zinged past his head. A few days ago Phillip went back to try and be of some real help to the Palestinians but was not allowed back into Israel. Apparently they now consider Phillip, a peace activist, as a security threat. Below is the first of Phillips letters. As Phillip sends me updates and additional information I be posting them on the blog for your reading (dis)pleasure and to help Phillip inform the people of this nation the reality of what the Palestinians are facing by this countries 51st state—Israel.--Jack
Greetings from the Middle East
By: Phillip D’Onofrio
I apologize for not having written sooner. I left Portland Oregon on Tuesday July 26th, and arrived at the hotel in Amman Jordan about 26 hours later on July 27th.While waiting for my flight from Chicago to Amman I spotted a young man about in his late twenties waiting for the same flight. I took him to most likely be a contractor headed for Iraq. On the plane we sat one seat apart. In our dialog I learned that he, as I suspected, he was a security contractor with Blackwater in Iraq. He had just been home for two weeks leave to see his wife and two children and now he was returning for another three months. He seemed like a very kind and gentle young man, not the personality I would stereotype with his line of work. He believed that progress was being made, but then again I guess one would have to believe that to emotionally survive. I was reminded how nothing is black and white, either good or bad, or right or wrong. We all hold an aspect of the truth and most importantly it is our truth we hold on to.
I know my truth conflicts with my travel mates truth, I believe the invasion and occupation of Iraq is immoral and is a crime against humanity.
While waiting for the bus outside the airport in Amman my stereo typical contractor walked by; he was dirty and large with crooked teeth and carried himself with an air of arrogance. On the back of his t-shirt was a large American flag that matched the one on his hat. I reminded myself that this man too has a family and loved ones back home.
I was exhausted when I arrived at my hotel and took their last room, and it looked like their last room. Due to jet lag I slept little. In the middle of the night I lay and listened to the mosque's call to prayer. It is such a beautiful sound that reminds me of where I am.
In the morning (July 28) I got up at six, went trough all my belongings to insure I had nothing indicative of activism or supportive of Palestinians, and then packed my bag. I went to the not so busy street to find some breakfast. I purchased an egg sandwich for about 50 cents and returned to my room. I still wasn't sure what I was going to do. I was ready to head for the border and enter the West Bank, but on the other hand I was waiting for the internet to get working at the hotel so I could send an email to you all. By 9 I became impatient and called my Israeli contacts to let them know that I was going to enter and to be ready for a call from the immigrations.
My plan was simple and fool proof. I had an itinerary to justify my time in Israel and it included staying at several Israeli homes. I had their contact information and we were on the same page as far as the story went.At about 10 am I caught a service for 3 JD (about $2) which took about an hour to reach the border. Leaving Jordan was easy and calm with no hassles. At every stage I was kindly pointed in the appropriate direction, and the whole process took little time. I wish I could say the same about the entry into Israel.
Buses transport everyone across the approx 1/2 mile "no mans land" between Jordan and Israel. Once in Israel the scene is chaotic and confusing. We were unloaded off the bus and waited in "line" under the hot sun. First we are separated from our bags in a system much like checking your bags in at the airport. Then we moved inside where we waited to walk through a metal detector. It may seem like no big deal to walk through a metal detector but at the Allenby crossing this is far from reality. The line moves so slowly, the guards are abrasive and look down at us as though we are lesser of humans. After getting through the simple metal detector everyone waits in another line.
Waiting for us at the front of the line is this large machine that looks like a fancy metal detector. When my turn finally arrives a green light comes on and the machine says: "enter". Once within, the machine says:” firing gas", and bursts of gas were shot from approx. 6 locations on each side of me is a systematic manner starting at my head and working its way down to my feet. The process takes about 8 seconds and then the machine gives you permission to exit. I have to say that I was very uncomfortable with this type of "security" and found it rather upsetting when I think about the history of the Jews and then a machine operated for Jewish security "shoots gas".
Once through the "gas machine" I entered a large room that reminds me of a plane hanger. No one directs you as to which line to go. Everything is ambiguous and confusing but having been there before I knew approximately where to go. The first few lines say "Passport Control" and people are cramming like cattle to get into the lines. Further down there are two booths, one without a sign and the other with a small hidden sign that says "Visitor Passport Control." This is where I need to be but rather than move directly into line like I know where I am going I play a bit confused and fade into the line.
At first I wait in line to get a form. Then I wait in line to hand in the form. Many fill the form out incorrectly and are sent to the back of the line in an abrasive manner. When I hand in my form I am asked why I come to Israel and I respond: "tourism." The young lady dealing with me gets her coworkers attention and they discuss what is on the computer screen. I am then asked to take a seat (there are few and they are full) while the lady takes my passport to a back room. As I sit and wait to be called I remember that this is exactly how it went last time and it took 6 hours. I think to myself that its been about 1 1/2 hours so far and I wondered if I would get out in another 4 1/2 hours.
I sit in the heat and watch the chaos and confusion about which line to be in and how to correctly fill out the forms. After a while a man comes and tells me to follow. As we walk he starts the small talk that they use as a foundation for further questioning later. He asks if I have been there before and I reply no. It all takes place in a quiet and indirect manner. I ask if I can use a rest room and am told that I could not at that time. I ask for water and was taken to a place to purchase water. I am lead past the "gas machine" and ask the man: "what is this machine." He snaps at me, "Why are you so interested in our machines!" I calmly reply that I have never seen such a machine and was curious about what it was doing. I am lead to a row of chairs and told to wait. He then asks if there is anything that I needed. I caught his eyes with a bemused look and he left before I could respond. I really did need to use the rest room.
As I wait guards walk by, some glare at me and some pay no attention. I know exactly what is happening because it is just like last year. After an hour a man comes and leads me into a small cubical with a curtain. Yep just like last year. I am searched and patted down and a metal detector is waved over my body. Like all hand held metal detectors it went off on the metal button of my pants, so of course I had to drop my pants. My shoes are taken and returned about 10 minutes later. I am then told that they want to further check my bag and lead to another room that would remind you of an unorganized baggage terminal at an airport.
I find my bag and am taken the room where they search the bags. A lady goes asks me to open my bag and then she goes at it. At a glance she appeared to be very thorough but in reality she never really looked at anything. She even missed the top compartment of my bag and I had opened it for her. I was then taken to a hall where I was asked to wait. Everything was going in the exact order it did last year, I recognized every room and knew what to expect next. But there were less questions and less searching of my bag.
After a while I am asked to enter a room where my picture is taken and again I am patted down and scanned with a metal detector and again asked to drop my pants. I am then taken to a small room where the questioning begins. The questions are simple, who are you? Where are you from? What type of work do you do? and so on. Then he asks if I will be in the West Bank this year. With out hesitation I say "no", but I caught the words this year so I know what is coming. Then he asks if I have been there before and I say "no"(I started with this story and I'm sticking with it through the thick and thin because I know they have a reputation for bluffing and if you change your story it's all over). He looks at me with a played out startled look, "no!” Our records show that someone with your exact name was here last year. I said: "that's strange because there can't be many people with my name." He then asks if I have another passport and I say that I do not. He then says that I was seen in the West Bank last year. I just sit quietly and listen, only responding to direct questions asked.
By this time it is late in the day or the middle of the night Portland time. I can barely keep my eyes open and I have to go to the bathroom so bad. His next topic I found rather amusing as he told me about how peace organizations were causing problems in Israel. He then goes on to ask me about the ISM. Of course I have never heard of such and organization. He insinuates that I was with the ISM last year and I quietly listen. This goes on for a half hour or so and then I am taken to the main room at the "visitor passport control" booth. The hanger like room is now all but empty. Palestinian janitors are washing the floor and a handful of people are waiting. I listen in on two men talking; one is from Washington DC and the other from Canada.
Soon the three of us are chatting. I stick to my story that it is my first time. The man from Canada says he'll never return to Israel because he has never been treated so poorly. The man from DC says he was going to stay for one week but he was now afraid because of what officers had said about the dangers. I wanted to counter the Israeli rhetoric but I just listened.
Soon an officer came out with my passport and told me I would have to return to Jordan. When asked why, I was informed that I was deemed a security threat. I asked to speak with the officer in charge. When I asked him what was going on he gave me the typical non answer that was exactly as I had been told previously. I was then taken to collect by bag and escorted to a bus. My escort was very pleasant and seemed genuine. He said that he was sorry that I had to wait so long only to be denied entry and that it wasn't in his hands. It had only been 5 hours since I last asked and was denied use of a bathroom so I asked to use one again and my request was granted.
Jordan accepted me warmly. One officer asked why I was denied entry into Israel. I told him that they thought me to be a security risk. He smiled, leaned up to the glass and whispered to me that Israel must have mistaken me for Bin Laden.It was still hot even though the sun had dropped behind the hills as I left the Jordanian border check point and entered the desolate, dusty street. I sat on my backpack and waited for a service to drive by. Within 15 minutes I was sitting in an air conditioned service headed for Amman.
I am disappointed, not because my plans fell through, but because I know that there are friends in Palestine and Israel that I am not allowed to see. In some ways my world has gotten smaller, but not nearly as small as the Palestinian restricted by checkpoints, walls, fences and occupation. Palestinians face rejection at checkpoints on a daily basis so who am I to complain because one check point rejected me.
I am also reminded about how small the world has become for Israel as she isolates herself more and more from the rest of the world. What are the consequences of peace organizations being seen as a problem? But Israel is not alone on this front, as our government has a long history of targeting people and organizations of peace while supporting those who harbor violence.
I am also disappointed and humbled because the money for my work in Palestine / Israel was donated by many of you on this list. At this time I am sitting tight sending out feelers as to how I can recover from this set back and still make gains in regards to human rights while here in the Middle East since we paid $1700 for my ticket alone.
If anyone has any suggestions please do not hesitate to contact me asap.
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