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.
So as the title says–yes, Israel reimbursed me for around 80 percent of the cost for a replacement laptop. I got the reimbursement in late December. Since people are still asking me, I’m *finally* posting this.
Thanks to those of you who left me encouraging comments and sent emails about my laptop, traveling, writing, conflict, etc. I am sorry I did not answer many of them. I did read everything and feel enormously lucky to be privy to so many perspectives.
To all those who bombarded my blog with negative comments–to only proclaiming hate for Israelis/Palestinians/Americans/Muslims, to accusing me of leaving my bag unattended (I did not) and never backing-up (I did–but yes, I should have more often): Travel. Read. If you’re in the U.S. take advantage of our amazing diversity and meet new people. If you’re an Israeli, why don’t you visit a Palestinian area? I know I’ll be criticized for saying this and I by no means thinks it’s the rule, however most Israelis I met had never been to a Palestinian area and thought I was crazy for going to Ramallah (which is perfectly safe and 20 minutes from Jerusalem). Likewise, I was shocked by how many Palestinians do not attempt to learn Hebrew. While I understand the repulsion for many, let’s face reality. How can solutions be reached without common languages?
There is tons I do not know about the Israel, Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, etc. I’m learning and with what I learn will likely change some opinions. This is my blogs, my opinions. I’m not a politician, not a journalist, I try to research and write informed entries, however I do not always censor my views or hide my ignorance. So don’t read if you do not want to…I hope you, like me, will be inspired to learn more by this incident, (more precisely the reaction to it).I’m all for criticizing– just make it worthwhile, debatable, something we can work with.
Ok. I’m writing too much. I intended this to be a short sweet post. Actually a reading break.
Yes…post-Israel, I spent a couple last days in Egypt, a couple crazy weeks reuniting with family and friends in NY, and now I’m back Boston, finishing my *last* undergraduate semester.
I miss blogging…but simply have no time now with school work, job, etc. One of these days I plan to catch-up and get back into it =)
Update 4/25/11- FYI I am removing the contents of this post due to the highly personal nature of the content.
Why do we think how we do? What shapes our lives? What can we learn? The following is a series of anecdotes, which in part, explain how I have reached certain opinions. I have received a lot of personal criticism over the last few days. This is my response.
Thanks for reading!
Home in New York, new laptop in hand:
Though Israel has yet to compensate me for their bullets through my laptop, my life and work must go on. Not having a computer for two weeks has been interesting–in Israel I had little distraction from human interactions. Back in Egypt I couldn’t keep up with the explosion of laptop-shooting-hype.
Now I’m back. Ready to take you along for my laptop debacle, approve your comments, and keep on blogging–like I did for the last eight months for my friends and family.
At the Apple Store on Bolyston street in Boston, I purchase a new Macbook. The options have changed for the better since my last purchase. Sweet!
The Apple’s techies say they can only transfer the data from my hard drive if I can bring in the computer. Yeah…Not happening.
I call a couple friends with love for Macs. There are a lot of those people in college…..My friend hooks me up with his external casing, and shouts the good news–your hard-drive survived! Everything’s here!
In the following hours my friends have to remind me I’ve been across the world for eight months and deserve to spend time with them, not my new computer with beloved old data and lots of emails.
If you have commented it should show up within the next day. I’m not censoring, just busy traveling.
My goal on this trip was to explore and learn. To see things for myself.
I’m using this incident as a chance to discuss, learn and question. I hope you’ll join me….
I loved my experience, learned a lot and hope to share more positive anecdotes, as well as laptop updates, in the coming days.
Also, thanks for the invitations, however I am no longer in Israel or the Palestinian areas.
Thanks for all the interest, humor and advice regarding my laptop craziness.
First, I completely agree with Freitas’s comment. “These guys shoot every day at unarmed people, even children. Why so much surprise about a simple laptop?”
Though a visual and poignant incident that captures a lot of sentiment and fault with Israeli policies and practices, unfortunately there are many more issues to get riled over. Let’s redirect the outrage over the laptop and focus on more serious grievances?
I’m busy at work, but this just caught my eye: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/09/gaza-children-palestinian-babies
That said, obviously there is interest in this incident. The Israeli security’s decision to shoot my laptop was nonsensical on multiple levels–unprovoked, unduly aggressive, a waste of government funds, etc
So to answer a FAQ:
Compensation? The manager on duty at the Israeli border gave me a form with phone numbers and an addresses of Israeli government offices in cities throughout Israel.
He promised I could go to any office the next day and they would help me get another laptop.
I was under the impression they would directly purchase from a local Apple store.
After spending most of a day calling the number with no response, and trying to locate a building Israelis I encountered didn’t know the location of, I was lucky enough to connect with a social worker at the tourism ministry. With his guidance, I was able to meet with an Israeli government employee the next day.
She passed me on to another man who took pictures of my laptop and said the process I was to go through was the same as any Israeli who had property damaged by military or “terrorist” acts.
They told me I can expect compensation (deliverable to an Israeli bank account only) in about a month. Though I asked to see the report– i.e. how much they’re planning to compensate me, so far, no news.
Let the countdown begin….??
I was sitting on the deck overlooking the Red Sea. Israeli security officers (most who looked around 18 years old) had completed around two hours of questioning and searching me. They had pressed every sock and scarf with a security device, ripped open soap and had me strip extra layers. They asked me tons of questions–where are you going? Who do you know? Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Arab, Egyptian, Palestinian? Why do you live in Egypt? Why not Israel? What do you know about the ‘conflict’ here? What do you think? They quized me on Judaism,which I know nothing about.
Then they asked me to wait. Since they had asked for friends and families phone numbers I assumed they might be calling to verify my answers to questions or confirm I really had extended family in Tel Aviv. An announcement played over the sound system, interrupting my break in the sunshine. First in Hebrew, then Arabic, then in English. It was something along the lines of, ” do not to be alarmed by gunshots because the Israeli security needs to blow up suspicious passanger luggage.”
I went inside to check on my bag. I had left it unattended, where they instructed. It was still there so I went back outside.
Moments later a man came outside and introduced himself as the manager on duty. And then, “I’m sorry but we had to blow up your laptop. “
What….all my client case notes and testimony, writing, pictures, music and applications. Years of work. NO!!!! What?? Are you insane?? What were you thinking? THAT’S ALL MY WORK!?
After much yelling, crying and frantic phone dialing (don’t be alarmed if I called you repeatedly this morning), he took me outside to see the wreckage. It turned out it hadn’t been quite blown up, but rather shot through with three bullets. We were able to extract the hard drive, seemingly unscaved. Thank goodness…
Security had never asked for my password. Was it my peeling Arabic stickers on the keyboard? Or something else during the questioning which set them off?
Toward the beginning of the search an officer began clicking through the photos on my camera. She froze on a picture of graffiti, which read “Fuck” scrawled next to the Jewish star of David. “Why do you have this picture?” She asked me rather aggressively. “Because I was disturbed by it too,” I answered. She didn’t press the subject but continued clicking…presumably looking at pictures from a photo exhibit about Israel’s January attack of Gaza.
Though I usually delete all my pictures when uploading, unluckily I had clicked save rather than delete when uploading this set and never got around to manually deleting on my camera. Whoops…
Among other suspicious item; an Arabic phrasebook, a journal entry that mentioned a Palestinian(yes, they even flipped through my journal), stamps from Syria, Qatar and the UAE, Palestinians in Palestine guidebook, and a map a friend had drawn with a main street in Jerusalem, the central bus station and my intended hostel. “Who are you meeting there?” They asked me.
Anyway I am in Jerusalem. Years of my life and my RLAP work is not destroyed. *sigh*. Insha’allah I will like Israel better tomorrow….