When a professor recently asked me to write an article about my infamous experience at the Taba-Eliat border crossing, I could not bear to reiterate the same story I’ve told many times. So I’ve begun a new quest: To learn what rights, if any, travelers have at border crossings. Because borders are often governed by bilateral treaties or domestic laws, rights, regulations and procedures are different everywhere. For the time-being, for obvious reasons, I’m focused on travelers entering Israel.
Currently I’m following a winding trail of repetitive non-answers, referrals and ambiguity. What I’ve learned, more than anything so far is people all over the spectrum–from journalists, travelers, human rights activists in Israel/Palestine, lawyers (at least in the States–waiting to hear from Israelis) and embassy employees, is there is a lack of knowledge. Though border-crossing tips are out there, when it comes to rights, many draw blanks.
For example, while Israel has the right to deny an individual entry, do they have the right to demand information about the contacts in a person’s phone–is an individual obligated to give up a friend’s telephone number? Can they read journals, look through photos? At one point they asked me if I had a password for my computer. They never asked what the password was. Did they have other means of accessing information on it? Do security concerns equate a blank check?
Or are there limits. For example, can a traveler choose to end a search and return back to where they came (something potentially difficult considering you’re trying to get back in a country without evidence of being in another….) ? If Israelis suspect a person of being a terrorist it seems counter-intuitive they would let them simply go back the way they came. Can a person ask to speak to a representative from their embassy during a search?
These are some of the questions I’m hoping to answer. If anyone has any knowledge or ideas, I would appreciate the help! I’m currently waiting to hear-back from some Israeli lawyers and someone at the American embassy. (The exchange with the embassy has persisted for a number of days without helpful results thus-far…)
P.S. My goals is only to educate! Not knowing your rights is being helpless.
Also consider, tourism is positive for Israel/Palestine (and most other nations). Letting travelers know what to expect at the border and how procedures work and what their rights are might encourage hesitant individuals.
Have you ever been caught without a pen? (No computer or other recording device either). I’m not talking about when you’re taking a test or filling out an application and you can ask the person next to you. I mean when you literally have no means to write.
Maybe you’re outside, see something interesting and want to write it down, maybe you want to remember something, you could be reading something and you want to take notes. Maybe you’re on an airplane or a train and want to journal your thoughts.
I’ve felt completely de-powered in these situations. In the luckier instances, I’ve resorted to using eyeliner, highlighters or anything I got my hands on, which could make marks I could hopefully read in the future–or at least, express myself in the moment. In these situations I’ve always felt surprised. Surprised at extent I’m distressed by my lack of ability to record.
What does writing mean to you? How do you use the skill? To me it’s expressing my thoughts, a way for me to think “out-loud,” a way to sort things out, clear my mind, learn, communicate with others and myself, remember, keep records, schedule and manage my time, state opinions, respond to others, ask questions, create, etc. And then there’s reading, which especially with internet access, is access to knowledge.
In the U.S. and around the world, millions cannot read and write. While there are many other ways to express oneself– think art, dance, talking, etc–not all are as peaceful and productive as having the ability to get ones thoughts out in writing. Think violence, vocal outbursts, etc.
In Afghanistan around 28 percent of the population is literate—out of women, only 12.6 percent. I just watched part of a Frontline piece about the U.S. operation there and in Pakistan. How would it be different if those people in villages in Afghanistan were blogging and reading online? Many likely have TVs, but it is not the same kind of power to actively seek and choose information and there is no feedback. No means to inject one’s own experiences and opinions.Increase cultural exchange, increase cross-cultural understanding….
How many people around the world of all ages have some kind of online expression, whether a blog, twitter, Facebook, even professional communication sites such as linkedin. Writing online, reading online, news online, inter-human connections online. People who cannot read and write cannot participate in this.
Another question, what is the internet like for non-English speakers? What about those who speak uncommon languages. To what extent is information available in different languages (barring government censorship of sites), are translations available and usable?….If Wikipedia is any clue, the numbers are drastically different with changes in tongue. Over 3,180,000 in English, with Dutch coming in second place, (can that be possible?) with over 1,019,000.
Just some thoughts to start the day. Please contribute yours!
Have you seen “Good Will Hunting” when Will rationalizes refusing a hot-shot NSA job?
“Why shouldn’t I work for the N.S.A.? That’s a tough one, but I’ll give it a shot. Say I’m working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I’m real happy with myself, ’cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never had a problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin’, “Send in the marines to secure the area” ’cause they don’t give a shit. It won’t be their kid over there, gettin’ shot. Just like it wasn’t them when their number was called, ’cause they were pullin’ a tour in the National Guard. It’ll be some guy from Southie takin’ shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, ’cause he’ll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile my buddy from Southie realizes the only reason he was over there was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the skirmish to scare up oil prices so they could turn a quick buck. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain’t helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And naturally they’re takin’ their sweet time bringin’ the oil back, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain’t too long ’til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So my buddy’s out of work and he can’t afford to drive, so he’s got to walk to the job interviews, which sucks ’cause the schrapnel in his ass is givin’ him chronic hemorroids. And meanwhile he’s starvin’ ’cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they’re servin’ is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what do I think? I’m holdin’ out for somethin’ better. Why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.”
That’s kind of how I felt today, teaching an employment workshop for Iraqi refugees who will soon be living in the United States.
They sit before me–A man who has worked in the government nearly 30 years, a woman who specialized in surveying, a computer engineer, an engineering student, a petroleum expert and a couple of housewives, among others.
We invaded their country and toppled their government. Every kind of political and social unrest ensued. They all have horrific stories about what personally happened to them in Iraq and why they fled.
They made their way to Egypt, often through transitory countries and spent 1-5 years struggling through the resettlement process.
Interviews, security checks, health screenings and more security.
The more horrific their stories—if they were tortured, specifically targeted, lost spouses, are single woman with no means of support–the more likely they are to be the lucky few selected for resettlement.
Currently most do not have jobs and struggle financially. Some put their children’s education on hold and others live off dwindling savings. Some have money for the moment but no opportunity to earn more.
On a survey I asked them if they had means to support themselves in the United States if they do not find a job immediately. Each wrote, “No.”
Exhausted from years of waiting. Depressed because of all they lost, they look hopefully toward a new life in the country of their occupiers. Their ordeal is almost over.
Yet without fluency in English and a poor economy (9.5 unemployment rate), what will greet them in the United States?
I prepare them for the possibility of working as dishwashers.
One man asks, me a question:
We are not immigrants by choice, we are refugees. We were forced to flee our country. Some of risked our lives and livelihood to help the United States in Iraq. Won’t America give us anything? Won’t anyone help us find jobs?
Voluntary resettlement agencies in the United States receive $900 in federal money for each refugee they sponsor. There are some essential the U.S. government requires VOLAGS to provide newcomers.
The federal money paired with whatever the VOLAG can raise, is expected to cover the refugees first month of rent, food upon arrival, basic furnishings and any job training. English classes and other needs are often not required, though undoubtedly vital to successful resettlement.
Anyone want to calculate how far $900 is going to go toward that?
The International Rescue Mission, one of the main resettlement agencies, reported the average family of four receives $575 in aid a month, lasting a maximum of 8 months. The same report said in its branch in Phoenix, Arizona, the average employment specialist is carrying a caseload of 200 refugees.
I tell the man in my class he cannot rely on anyone, that he needs to learn what resources are available and how to use them.
There is no way to know how much aid he will get in the United States, no way to know who will hire him, if his caseworker will give him the help he needs or he’ll ever work in a high-level position again.
I explain about outlets for job searching, interviews, resumes and building contacts and references. We have lots to discuss and do not get through half of it.
They are receptive, they listen and ask questions.
These individuals will be going to cities and towns across the United States. They are strong independent people, used to supporting themselves. They do not want to rely social services–they want jobs and are willing to take ones they would never consider in Iraq.
They thank me at the end of the workshop. They ask if they can meet individually for more questions and resume writing.
I’m a student, with less education and life experiences than every one of them.
Ours is a crazy world.
* I would love some feedback–about the political/societal aspects of this situation and practical and creative ideas.
Does anyone know resettled Iraqi refugees living in the United States? How are they getting by? How are they being received?
My clients will be resettled anywhere from San Francisco to Boston, Arizona, Arlington Virginia and Detroit–to name a few places.
If you live in any of these locations and want to get involved—i.e. showing a newcomer around or helping them practice English and hearing a story over a cup of tea, shoot me an email. *
Change is my favorite. Today I returned to Cairo from Alexandria and tomorrow a new adventure begins.
The remaining Northeastern students will return to the United States (I’ll miss you guys =/ ) and I’ll begin my internship at the Resettlement Legal Aid Project in downtown Cairo.
I’m able to spend 6 months working in Cairo because of NU’s co-ops program.
The idea is students get real world experience and build their resumes while remaining full-times students.
While last year I took advantage of NU’s vast job database and enjoyed working at the New England Council in Washington, DC–this time around I decided to do my own thing.
Thanks to the advice, flexibility and patience of my co-op advisors, Lisa Worsh, Cynthia Sweet and Ketty Rosenfeld, among other professors and contacts, I’ve settled.
The aim of RLAP is to help refugees prepare testimony for the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Migration Organization, in charge of resettlement.
I’ll be working with refugees already approved for resettlement to prepare them for life in new lands–usually the U.S.
I’ll find out more tomorrow, but this involves everything from assisting with housing, jobs, education and language to discussing cultural norms and expectations. After a bit, I might work on the legal side of things too—interviewing and preparing for testimony.
The project was originally specifically for Iraqi refugees and they continue to make up the bulk of the clients. For obvious reasons, the U.S. is accepting more Iraqi refugees than any others.
What kind of things are happening with projects of this sort now? Here’s one perspective.
I’m excited to begin this new phase.
What do the words Islamic blogger bring to mind? Young extremists hacking away on old computers. Youth from poor backgrounds who have turned to Islam after secular dreams failed? Maybe you already know better.
Raya Shokatfard is a 63-year old female blogger for Islamonline.com and lived most of her life in the United States. She came to speak with us at Professor Sullivan’s flat and because of popular demand, spent the majority of the time sharing intimate details of her personal life. Ask some journalistic questions, Carlene chided us an hour or so into the conversation. It was little use–Raya’s story had us hooked.
A native of Iran, Raya’s family migrated to California in 1969 when she was 20 years old. A mini-skirt wearing model who owned a clothing store, drove a Rolls Royce and spent her time at a beach house, religion and modesty, so central to Islam were far from her mind.
At some point, these luxuries grew old. “I have everything but I’m really empty,” she remembers realizing.
Through Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity (she practiced as a Christian seven years) she traveled, still at a loss for what she sought. Then she read the Koran. “It was so plain, so clear. I felt I did find God here,” she told us.
Divorced with two children Shokatfard retreated to the mountains of northern California to home school her children in Islam and lead a more peaceful life. As her understanding of Islam deepened so did her desire to share and combat misconceptions about the religion.
Raya spent 16 years speaking in schools, churches and wherever she was welcomed about Islam. At the same time she operated as a highly successful real-estate agent.
Around September 11th she married a “strict” Egyptian husband with two other wives. He asked her to give up her real estate business–which she said was earning her $30,000-40,000 per month. “When you say you believe don’t you think Allah will test you?” she said of the financial sacrifice.
She also adapted the niqab (face veil) in addition to the hijab (headscarf) and abaya (full-length dress) she already wore. She continued giving lectures in rooms where men and women sat separately–she removed her niqab only facing women. She said she wanted to learn from her husband, who was under Allah. Women are vessels under their husbands, she told us. “Everything he asked me, I did,” she said of her second husband. “He was a very knowledgeable sheikh.
When she could not reach her husband to gain permission, she missed her own lectures.
After September 11th she wanted to do something more. I wanted to expand my audience, she told us.
She came to American University in Cairo and earned her Masters in Communication and Media. During this time she divorced her Egyptian husband–something common in Islam. After graduating in 2007 she was hired by Islamonline.com, the most widely read English Islamic publication. Today accepts a promotion to the position of chief editor
How are you guys grappling with all this? Carlene asked us mid-way through. I think we can talk freely here, she said. Raya has children who grew up in the United States. She spent her life there.
We did not hold back. We asked Raya about polygamy and feminism, her multiple divorces and relationships with her children.
“No matter what I did I was the smartest in everything. I became proud,” she told us. “I had the body of a woman but a mind of a man. When I really looked at characteristics of a believing woman, that is not me.” She described Saudi Arabian women who isolated and insulated themselves from the outside world.
What you’re saying is woman shouldn’t work? Isn’t that a privilege of the elite? I questioned her.
She held firm. It’s not women’s natural role. Their characters suffer. Raya considers her own activism different–not a financial enterprise she is doing the work of Allah.
After the session ended Stephanie Daly and I asked her questions for an article we’re writing about dating (stay tuned!).
Steph wanted a picture with her. Come in, come in, she encouraged me.