Monday, August 15, 2005

Peace Activist Phillip D'Onofrio Denied Entry to Israel as a "Security" Threat

With all the talk coming out of Washington about “security” and more “security in this country to “protect” us from all those nasty “terrorist” there is no doubt that we are headed in the direction of a “security state” much like our 51st state, Israel. Think again if you view that statement as a little over the top. Bush/Cheny & Co have everything in place—national ID’s; the Patriot Act (I choke every time I use that term); spies in our midst. It’s just a short jump here in the U.S. to what my good friend and peace activist Phillip D’Onofrio has been confronted with trying to re-enter Israel and then Palestine.

About a year ago Phillip had gone to Israel and Palestine to see for himself what the “real deal” was there. He found out in no uncertain of terms. He saw the brutality perpetrated upon the Palestinian people by Israel, our 51st state. He saw things that have haunted him every since. That’s why two months ago Phillip decided to go back to Palestine to do what ever he was able to be of a positive help as a peace activist. Hopefully Phillip will keep out of the way of Israeli bullets. He almost got shot the first time he was there.

However, Phillip when he tried to enter Israel, Israeli security denied him entry. Seems as though Israel now considers Phillip, a peace activist, as a security threat and has denied him entry. Reminds me of last week when the Bush/Cheney cabal labeled Cindy Sheehan, mother of Casey Sheehan who was killed in Iraq, a “threat” to our national security. Like I said, it is a short jump from where we are now to the state security apparatus that exists in Israel.--Jack

Denied Entry to Israel—Peace Activist a “Threat” to Israeli Security?
Phillip D’Onofrio

Time spent in the Middle East never fails to be interesting. Friday afternoon, with a new passport in hand, I boarded a bus for Aqaba. It was a slow 5 1/2 hour journey as I sat and watched the desolate scenery drift by my window. I wondered how the villages in this region survived for I saw no water and few trees. Yet still it was beautiful. For the last leg of the journey the scenery turned rugged, but remained water and treeless. The sun was setting, casting a beautiful shade of orange on the cliffs as we drove through the pass that descended into the beach resort town of Aqaba.

Aqaba is nestled between a range of rugged low mountains and the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba. One can look across the gulf and see the city of Eilat in Israel which almost appears to be a part of Aqaba, and/or one can take a short ferry ride to the Sinai of Egypt. It was about 8 pm when I exited the semi air-conditioned bus and was struck by a blast of humid heat that seemed so thick that I could cut it with a knife. I found a hotel for 12 JD or about $16, which I thought was too much, but I lacked energy for haggling. As I walked around the town I felt as though I could be in any beach resort town in the world.

There were many tourists, mostly Arab but a few internationals as well. My nostrils were filled with the smells of grilling kabobs, the sweetness nargilah (Arabic style of smoking tobacco), and the wafting sea breeze. I was already ready to leave for I despise touristy areas, where I am merely a walking wallet; they seem so empty.

The rumors are that the Wadi Araba crossing, the border crossing between Aqaba and Eilat, is more relaxed and that a man in my situation recently passed through with ease.Saturday morning I woke at 7 am and went out to grab some thing to eat and to take in the town before the crowds. At a little vegetable stand I was treated to the most delicious peaches I have ever had.

Then I returned to my room to go through all my belongings again to make sure I had no names or numbers or anything indicative of Palestine or activism. At 10 am I caught a cab and headed for the Wadi Araba crossing.At the border there was a large Japanese tourist group of about 50, mostly young teenagers.

The Jordanian Border Control was warm and polite, as usual but they did question the reason for my new passport. I knew they would question this and I expected the questioning to be more intensive on the other side of the border. The Japanese were bogged down by their numbers so I walked alone across the approximately 300 yards of "no mans land" between Jordan and Israel.

About a mile behind me lay Aqaba and about a mile in front loomed another tourist trap, Eilat. As I reached the Israeli border the security was looking through their binoculars at the large Japanese group now on their way. I said, "It looks like your going to be busy soon". The two guards just nodded in a relaxed manner. I was glad to have this large group coming up behind me; maybe this would encourage the Border Control to expedite the process with me. But then again maybe it wouldn't.

I went into the building to have my bag checked. Like most borders it was run through an x-ray machine, several pockets were opened and I was allowed to move on to Border Control. There was no chaos, lines or "gas chamber" like at Allenby.

At Border control the lady at the window began to question my new passport and wanted to know where my old one was, (the story was that I had lost it at Petra). She asked if I had been to Lebanon or Syria, which I had not. She wanted to know if I had been to Israel before, which I had last year. Nothing was mentioned about my denied entry at Allenby by either of us. Shortly two men came and asked me to follow. I knew the routine which was about to take place. I decided not to be as compliant as in the past and to be more of an entitled US tourist (this is a tough one for me).

We entered the baggage check area and the Japanese group had filled the room and were getting ready to put their bags through the x-ray machine. I was told to put my bag through the machine in front of them. I did so but explained that my bags had already been checked. As my bag went through the machine I was taken to a room with a curtain.

I knew what this room was for, and they explained that they wanted to "check my body". A male security officer frisked me then used a hand held metal detector over my body. Of course it went off near my zipper when he touched my pants. The officer left and returned with a female officer that informed me that she would leave and I would have to drop my pants. I explained that this was humiliating, out of line and a terrible way to treat a US citizen.

My sandals were taken to be checked in another room and my bare feet were checked, for what I have no idea other than to intimidate. When my sandals were returned I was allowed to exit the room. I opened the curtain and before my eyes all of my belongings were strewed about, the Japanese group, and some other tourist were slowly moving along because most of the attention was focused on me. Everyone in the room knew I was the reason for the delays and looked at me with curiosity.

A pair of wide eyed European ladies asked, "is all this stuff your?" I said, "Yes, I lost my old passport and got a new one here in Jordan. This seems to be setting off some red flags for them." Security motioned to the two ladies to take their bags and move along. They all but ran out of the building for fear that their belongings may be next.

Soon the lady from border control came and asked where my passport was. I replied: "you have it. It has not been not returned it to me.” She got angry and snapped, "where is your other passport!” I said, "O you mean my old passport, the one I lost. I have no idea where it is. All I know is that it disappeared while I was at Petra.” She continued to escalate, "you were denied entry at Allenby. Where’s the passport!" "I don't know" I replied. "Do you think we are stupid" she shouted and stomped off making a scene that caught everyone's attention.

I sat for a minute evaluating my situation and reminded myself that I was an entitled US citizen. I then asked to speak with the person in charge and was directed to a large plain cloths man in the room. I started to explain to him that this behavior was extremely rude. He nicely cut me short and said that he was in charge of security and that my complaint was should be addressed to Border Control. I then asked to speak with the person in charge of Border Control and he led me to the same lady. I asked her "what is going on here? I was just spoken to in the most inappropriate manner. I am a US citizen and a tourist, and I deserve to be treated better than this.”

She seemed caught off guard and started telling me about my being denied at Allenby. I said, "Yes I was denied at Allenby. Then I went to Petra and lost my passport. My denial at Allenby is irrelevant, I was never given a reason for my denial, so why shouldn't I try to return to Israel to visit my Israeli friends?'' I could tell that the conversation would only digress into a power struggle if I continued, so I returned to the baggage area.

Security was still searching my bags. One of the ladies with security showed me a can of coke that I had in my pack, "we need to open this!" I replied, "you’re going to pay for it right?" She shook her head and began to open it over my belongings. "No!” I snapped. "If you are going to open it please do so away from my belongings. You have surely shaken it up in all your searching." As she opened the can of coke another security officer was squishing out some of my tooth paste and another was searching my deodorant.

After my coke was opened it was offered to me to drink. Even though it looked good at the time I denied. It was difficult to refrain from laughing out of disgust when my travel alarm clock drew a lot of attention. Two officers looked at it for almost 5 minutes. I was reminded of the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy", when the coke bottle fell from the sky. It was a scene of an Aborigine looking at a shinny coke bottle for the first time.

Finally everything had been thoroughly checked except for my empty bag. Two and at times three officers spent over 15 minutes checking an empty backpack. It was put through the x-ray machine countless times. Finally I got up and asked, "Can I help you, you seem to be having difficulties with my bag." The reply was, "Sit down." But they stopped searching my bag and within about 3 minutes I was allowed to repack my bag.

While packing my bag the Border Control lady returned to ask some questions. She had regained her composure and acted like nothing had happened. It was the typical questions, where are you going? Where are you planning on staying? How long do you plan to be in Israel? and so on. After packing my bag I took up a seat on it because the Japanese group was still there and occupying all the seats.

Soon the large man in charge of security came to mess around with the electrical box that was next to me. He asked, "Did you get to speak with the lady in charge" "Yes" I responded. "Was she any help" he asked. "No. But you already knew this." He gave a warm smile and gently nodded. It was actually a very nice interaction. I had been watching this man as events unfolded and he stayed out of it.

Shortly the Japanese group cleared out and I was left alone. Then the lady from Border Control came with my passport in hand, "I'm sorry but you are going to have to return to Jordan" she said.

As we walked towards the gate I asked her why and she said, "Because the Ministry of Defense is closed today." "That is not an answer" I said. She replied, "Do not try to come here tomorrow. You need to go to the Consulate's office." "Where?" I asked. She changed her story, "you need to go to your Embassy". I said, "You know they will do nothing. You have the power to let me visit Israel. Why are you denying my entry"? Like a machine she said, "Because the Ministry of Defense is closed today." "That is not an answer. I never got an answer at Allenby and now you are not giving me an answer. Why is this?" The machine continued, "I have given you the answer." "You have not given me an answer. You have given me a story" I replied.

We were now at the gate and she said, "I'm sorry, but you must leave now.” I looked her in the eyes "Are you really sorry" I asked. She smiled and looked down, "No, I am not.” "Why did you lie to me, if you are not sorry?" I asked. She looked at the armed guard that had escorted us and mumbled something to me. I then said, "Why have so many of my interactions with Israeli security, been met with a wall of lies and deceit in the name of security?" She shrugged her shoulders and turned to walk away. I continued, "This is the question you should think about while you lie in bed tonight" and I turned to retrace my steps back across the "no mans land" to Jordan.

In Solidarity,Phil

You can write to Phillip at: or send me an email and I’ll make sure Phillip gets it:

For addition information see:

If American’s Only Knew

Counsel to the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry’s investigation into the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty

Important new details of the U.S.-Israeli espionage case…
(the link to the article is inserted in the red)


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