Israel/Palestine: What I learned from being Profiled

We had just landed in Tel Aviv after an 8-hour flight from Newark.  We had made it to Israel!  I was so excited.  We were going to be greeted by our hosts from Telos, and taken to our first location – the Dead Sea and Jericho.  What better introduction to the Holy Land?!

The instructions we were given for customs were pretty simple.  Answer the questions, smile, and move along.  Sounds easy.  Or so I thought.

“Where was your dad born?”

With that question, I knew this wasn’t going to be a smooth process. I told the lady my dad was born in Ramallah, a city in the West bank (aka – Palestine).  With that answer, she became very curious about my dad, my family, where they were all born, etc.

I was told to have a seat in a small room, and someone would come and talk to me.  Great. I’ll admit, my heart was beating pretty fast at this point.  I was trying not to let my nervousness show on my face, but I’m sure they could tell I was a bit uneasy.

After about 10 minutes of waiting (seemed MUCH longer), I was called into an office where an Israeli Officer began asking questions about my family.  What’s your dad’s name? What about your Grandpa…what’s his name?  What’s your cell number? Email address?  Where do you live now?  Where does your dad live now? Why are you visiting Israel?  How long are you staying? What hotels are you visiting?

He was writing all my answers down.  I’m not sure if he looked me up on Facebook later, or if he simply wanted me to have a keen awareness that a Palestinian coming into Israel is no small thing – especially if they have a history here.

He sent me back to the small room to wait for another 10-15 minutes. The whole time I was trying to stay calm, but on the inside I was feeling everything BUT calm.  I’m an American Citizen, why are they questioning me?  Why didn’t they question any of the other team members?  I knew the answer.  I just didn’t want to believe what was happening.

Have you ever been profiled?

If I’m honest, that was the first time for me.  And it didn’t feel good.  Going all the way back to 9/11 – when terrorists attacked the USA,  I remember being asked if I was treated poorly for being an Arab.  I would reply, “Not at all!” That was the truth.  Perhaps I don’t look Arab?  At times I have been mistaken for an Italian or Mexican. There’s nothing wrong with that – they have amazing food.

I realize this kind of stuff happens every day for certain people in America…and it breaks my heart.  The Israeli custom agents and officers assumed a lot because of my last name and my heritage.  They didn’t even know me.  They don’t know my dad.  They didn’t know my Grandpa.  What gives them the right to put me in a box?

“Welcome to Israel,” I thought…as I sat in the bus after they let me go and get my luggage. This is going to be quite a trip.

The only other time I felt profiled?  8 days later at the airport as we were getting ready to leave.  I hand over my passport.  They look at my last name.  “Arab?” the lady said.  Yep.  She turns and leaves for a few minutes.  This time, however, she let me move on without more conversation, or having to sit in a small room.

Please understand, this is not a pity party, political rant or divisive blog post.   The reality is some people live this everyday…in Israel, Palestine, and America.  As my church is in this “Love Everyone, Always” series, I find myself in a place of discontentment when I think of others who have experienced this, or are experiencing this now.

I’m not naive enough to think that I don’t, in my own way, profile others to some extent. So what can I do?  What can we do?

  • Renew My Mind.  This is key.  If I’m going to love everyone, always; I’m going to need to renew my mind with God’s truth.  Specifically, I need to see others the way God sees them.  Every person I lock eyes with is someone for whom Christ died.  My desire is to see them that way!  Brian and Jenn Johnson have an amazing song called “For the One.”  Our church has rallied around it, and it’s become the anthem to this series.  In essence, it’s a cry to love people the way God loves them…unconditionally.
  • Learn their story.  Stories change perspective.  I realize the Airport Customs line is not the time to sit down and listen to my story.  But in my everyday life, am I taking time to listen to people’s stories?  Am I asking good questions? Am I willing to learn something new, and allow that new learning to shape my view of someone?

I know there are more than two steps in this process, but for me, these have been helpful.

What are some other ways we can truly Love Everyone, Always?



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