The Palestine Telegraph
Some people do reckon that democracy is electing a government through votes or gaining a majority. Electoral politics, however, do not necessarily guarantee equal opportunity and access to political participation, racial equality or protection against discrimination. In many countries around the world there exists inequality and discrimination. Australia is one such example.
I arrived at Bribane International Airport on the 23rd of March. It had been a long 23 hour flight to the country. I longed for nothing more than rest, especially after the additional security checks in London and Singapore. Standing in the queue for international travelers arriving in Australia, I watched men, women and families having their passports stamped. The travelers passed through the line one-by-one having their passports stamped. Given the speed in which everyone passed, it was not long before I arrived at the counter to have my own passport inspected and stamped with the entry visa.
My passport was stamped, but unlike my fellow travelers I was prohibited from moving on. I was asked to step aside. At this point, I became confused because none of those who had gone before me had been asked to do the same. It was not long, however, before I found out why I had been asked to step aside.
Two security officers approached to welcome me to Australia. The first security officer, who seemed to be an Arab-looking gentleman, said “Oh, hello Mr. Habeeb. We have been waiting for you.” I replied, “thanks a lot, hopefully I will enjoy it.” Cynicism from deep within me began bubbling to the surface. It was the comment that they had been waiting that resulted in a feeling of uneasiness.They have even told me manythings about me. It seems a file of informatin has been sent to those guys. All my activties in Gaza and London were known by those guys!
The second security officer queried, “Mr. Habeeb, you were denied a visa to the UK in December 2008?” While answering yes to his question, I was thinking to myself what the hell is going on here. There is something wired going on. Maybe it was just the lack of sleep and long flight that were playing with my mind. Their purpose and the intent were still unclear at this point, however.
After claiming my bags, I was asked to go to a special corner for an additional security scan. The scan was particularly irritating given that there were two similar scans conducted in London and then Singapore. My bags were opened and every item was inspected. There was not an article of clothing left untouched by the inspectors. If it had only been this, then maybe I could chalk the whole incident up to being nothing more than a lack of sleep and the long flight. Was it my color, ethnicity and Palestinian background that prompted these “extra security measures?”
While my clothing was individually inspected, I was bombarded with loads of questions. They questioned my ideological, political and journalistic involvement regarding Palestine. “You are a journalist. You come from Gaza. Where are you going in Australia? What are you doing in Australia? Who is receiving you? How long do you plan to stay? Are you coming for a conference? Can I see any materials in regards to the conference? When are you leaving Australia? Show me your tickets? How is your newspaper going? Do you get funds for your paper? What do you think of the Israeli conflict? How is life in the UK? How did you become a journalist? Tell me about the life in Gaza? Tell me about your family?” These were the questioned the officers asked.
I had to answer most of the questions. For those that related to Palestine, I embedded my own view. I said every Palestinian is tired from Israeli torture and the horror inflicted over the years, especially during the Gaza war. Palestinians aspire to peace. I lived the genocide in Gaza, the unjust siege and even witnessed the killing of my friends. Despite this, I chose to nonviolently struggle through journalism. I explained that I wished for Israel to come to an understanding of our suffering and torture. At the same, I do not think they want to understand.
While I did not say it to my inquisitors, I thought Israel will never come to understand because to do so would mean it cannot continue its systematic oppression of Palestinians. The questioning abruptly came to a halt due to something another officer found in my bags. Those checking my bags found CDs, materials on Palestine, photo galleries on the Gaza siege, and my own personal USB flash. This prompted the two security men, who had been waiting for me when I arrived, to summons another officer. The third man took my CDs and USB flash drive. He was gone for 15 minutes. While I had nothing to hide or even of great importance on the USB, it was the unashamed violation of my privacy that bothered me about their search, especially given that no one before me had received similar treatment.
My irritation began to surface at the treatment, which led me to question the officers regarding the inequality and discrimination that persists in Australia despite it being a democracy. I questioned them regarding the treatment of minorities, the living conditions among the migrant communities, and the status of immigrants. They responded by stating that immigrants and minorities in Australia are treated well. The questioning, however, seemed to have irritated the officers. Despite noticing their anger, I asked whether anything had been done regarding Israel’s use of the Australian passport. The officers replied that the situation was difficult.
As the interrogation was coming to an end, I offered to allow them to make copies of the CDs, and the Gaza photos; I even offered one of them a Palestinian flag. The officers of course declined, but thanked me nonetheless. They thoroughly looked over my passport once more and commented on my extensive travel. The interrogation by my inquisitors ended with a congratulatory remark regarding my travel.
Whether it was my lack of sleep and long flight or whether the extra security measures were taken due to my color, ethnicity and Palestinian background, one can only wonder how the minorities and aboriginals are treated in Australia if visitors are treated in this manner upon arrival and on invitation. In Australia there exists inequality in dealing with residence; there are greater opportunities afforded to the white population over the non-white minorities; and, there is unequal treatment among immigrants. Some even mentioned that there are jails set up in remote islands where unlucky migrants die secretly. Moreover, the Aboriginals in Australia have been displaced and discriminated against for more than 200 years. The Aboriginals, like Palestinians, have been fighting systematic oppression. Could this be the reason for the Australian governments unwavering support for Israel?
Politics aside and the unpleasant and discriminatory treatment at the airport upon arrival, the trip has been pleasant. Driving in the street of Sydney reminds me of home in many ways. Many of the roads have similar styles and the old utility poles adorn the streets. The weather was warm and the sun filled the sky. I inhaled the humid air, closed my eyes and allowed the smell of green to fill my nostrils. For the first time since I left Gaza more than one year ago, I felt close to my homeland, Palestine.
Sameh A. Habeeb is a Palestinian Jorunalist, Peace Activist & Founder of The Palestine Telegraph Newspaper. He currently resides in the UK. You can reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org