SUNDAY, JANUARY 3, 2016
12:45am Departure from Ben Gurion Airport
Though I was traveling with Liam as VIPs – arranged by Project Interchange given my delays upon arrival – we were pulled over and searched frequently – largely because I didn’t look like I belonged. The security guards didn’t bother to ask me about who I was; they asked Liam to speak for me while I sat in the backseat. It was a similar reality at all the checkpoints. The most common question – aside for the origin of my parents – was what had brought me to Israel. Racial profiling hurts like hell and it felt humiliating that every word of mine was questioned and had to be confirmed by Liam. And sometimes, I was never allowed to speak for myself. Regardless, I would go through the process again. I felt incredibly grateful that Project Interchange had taken extra measures to ensure a safe departure – I was never alone and I had documents and letters to prove that I was a good person. I tried not to feel resentful about being pulled aside and searched at every checkpoint. Security matters, and Israel isn’t the safest place in the world – it has a low margin of error. Moreover, once I passed all the tests, the security personnel were always apologetic and expressed thanks in regards to cooperation. It was their job and of course, it was for them, “an odd and interesting thing to see a Muslim, with no family in the area, coming to Israel.” I hope that one day that it’s not odd; that our security measures can have more trust in people different from us. I do hope that my family can visit the Dome of the Rock one day and pray there. I do hope they can see Israel for themselves.
As for why I wanted to come to Israel, there are many reasons. I wanted learn firsthand about one of the most complex, controversial countries of the world, in a journalistic lens that demands inquiry and curiosity. I wanted to understand the nation that many of my friends held unbreakable, tethering ties to. I also wanted to experience the holy land and the see where the three monotheistic religions did coexist, although imperfectly and sometimes violently. And I did learn enormously – most significantly, that despite all the lectures I attended, the textbooks I read and the people I’ve met, I knew nothing. That sort of occhiolism is disarming.
However, perhaps, one of the most valuable blessings of the trip were the people I met. I couldn’t tell you much about who my groupmates are on paper – only that we shared a passion about how narratives are derived from facts but not necessarily themselves factual. I couldn’t tell you how many siblings they had (except for a few) or what their favorite color was (maybe blue), but floating in the Dead Sea, around twilight, made me realize that even if we don’t have anything in common – and even if we don’t see each other in the future – we grew up with each other in that week in Israel.
And that bond is invaluable.
n. the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness—to the extent you have to keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid just days ago—which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into everyday life, or just hold the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d never have to call cut.