Three Israelis expelled from Fiji described their experience as "The most humiliating experience we have ever gone through". They should recognize that such humiliation is a daily occurrence for millions of Palestinian people living under the Israeli military occupation.
Amit Ronen, Eldar Avracohen, and Nimrod Lahav left Israel in February to tour Australia and the adjacent islands on vacation. Seven months later, their sweet holiday soured when they found themselves detained by immigration officials upon arrival in Fiji.
On July 13th, they arrived at Fiji airport, prepared for a week of sun on the tropical paradise islands. They weren’t, however, prepared to be greeted by a Muslim administrator who demanded that they hand over their ‘identity cards’ in addition to their passports.
In a letter from Avracohen to Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, he described the incident: "We gave our passports to the officer, and when she saw we are Israelis [sic] she asked for ID cards. We told her we don’t understand why we need ID cards and she responded shouting: ‘You know very well how to ask Palestinians for IDs and humiliate them for three years."
The three were held at Fiji airport for six hours and officials rebuked their pleas to be allowed to make a phone call. Armed policemen took them to a cell at the airport where they spent the night before being sent back to Australia the following morning.
These Israeli tourists were undoubtedly treated harshly, and arguably ‘unfairly’, because they had previously spent time serving a military which is known to routinely humiliate Palestinian civilians. Let us give the three the benefit of the doubt and say that they were not guilty of committing crimes against humanity while they were in the service of the Israeli army. The simple truth is that millions of Palestinians are not given that benefit of the doubt, every day. And they don’t have embassies to appeal to.
"I don’t look like a terrorist and there is no reason to point a gun at me," Nimrod Lahav wrote in a letter to ambassador Tamir. I presume he meant that he doesn’t have olive skin, that he doesn’t wear a keffiyeh or carry an Uzi, but Nimrod, I ask you this, "What does a terrorist look like?" A terrorist is someone who uses violence for political gain. So it should be instantly clear to you, even with your military training, that a terrorist doesn’t necessarily look like an Arab. In fact, the people most guilty of using violence for political gain wear respectable suits and sit in the Knesset, the House of Commons and, yes, even the US Congress and Senate.
There is no political violence which cannot be termed ‘terrorism’, so why do you find it difficult to understand your embarrassment, when your own state authorities identify anyone who disagrees with their own political viewpoint as a ‘terrorist’?
For Palestinian civilians to travel anywhere outside their home villages, they must produce identity cards, travel permits, and any and all other documentation demanded by the Israeli military stationed in checkpoints outside every town and city in the West Bank. Palestinians might be held in the sun for hours at a time, or flatly refused passage with no explanation given. The delays and the frustration that builds with this daily ritual of humiliation might perhaps offer our three Israelis in Fiji some comprehension of why they were turned away.
Our three Israeli friends should be grateful that they were merely turned away from a holiday destination and were not subject to being blockaded in their home country, refused access to medical facilities, prohibited from travelling to buy food for their families, or obstructed passage to school, university or the synagogue. They will have experienced, possibly for the first time, the feeling of being denied entry to somewhere, based exclusively upon their ethnic background.
It is a deeply unpleasant experience, but perhaps may lead to the understanding that every time someone asks you to produce your documents to pass through a military checkpoint, the only words you hear are "Papieren bitte".