Yesterday Peter Beinart, the liberal Zionist writer, disclosed that he had been detained at Ben Gurion airport on August 12 for an hour of questioning of his political opinions/activities. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promptly released an unprecedented statement saying the detention had been a mistake, and Beinart said he would accept Netanyahu’s apology only if he apologized to Palestinians who are subjected to far worse. Many Zionists have responded angrily to the news by saying that the country is damaging itself in the eyes of the world by harassing leftleaning Jews who want to visit. And the Israeli attorney general says she is looking into the detention incidents.
Today Reza Aslan, the bestselling writer on religion who was born in Iran and lives in LA, was moved by Beinart’s experience to tell his own story on twitter:
Peter’s experience has spurred me to share mine. 2 weeks ago, as I was crossing back into Israel from Jordan, I was separated from my family and detained by Shin Bet. “We can make it so you don’t see your kids for a long time” I was warned. This is what happened next.
The Shin Bet lady, who already knew everything about me and my family’s journey around the world, began with “You think because you’re a public person I can’t do whatever I want with you?” I was floored. This is how interrogations begin in police states.
“Why do you hate Israel?” She asked. “I don’t hate Israel,” I replied. “But you hate our Prime Minister.” “I’m sorry is your Prime Minister Israel?” “He was democratically elected!” (No he wasn’t but let’s just drop that) “So was Trump and I hate him and still love America.”
“Oh I know all about you and Trump,” she spat. I forgot the Israeli Right Wing’s affection for our racist Neo-Nazi loving president. “You don’t think Israel should exist yes?” That’s absurd. I’m against the occupation not Israel. Then the police state part began in earnest.
Write down names of Palestinians you know Write down names of journalists you associate with Write down names of Palestinian organizations you support And constantly, repeatedly, this threat: “if you don’t cooperate it will be a long time before you see your kids again.”
I tried to cooperate the best I could. It was 104 degrees. My wife, my two 6yr olds, my 3yr old, and I my two elderly in-laws had been waiting for me in the sun for hours. But (again the police state tactic): every answer I gave she told me was lie. “Stop lying!” She’d yell.
The questions got dumber and more surreal: “Who did your father work for in Iran?” I don’t know. I was 7 when we left “Oh Mr Scholar! You can tell me everything about the Ottoman Empire but you don’t know your own father’s history?” For the record I am not an Ottoman scholar.
In the end, after hours of this, she warned “I may let you into Israel but, who knows, I may not let you out. I will keep you here and kick out your family. It depends on you. You would miss your kids yes?” That my friends is the classic police state trick. Iran has perfected it.
Her final warning was not to visit the Palestinian Territories. Not to meet with or speak to any Palestinians or any Israeli trouble makers. “We are watching you.” 2 days later I went to Bethlehem, to the wall, and took this picture:
Two days after that, the Italian artist who painted this portrait of Ahed Tamimi was arrested and deported. This was my 4th trip to Israel in ten years and every time it’s gotten worse. It’s becoming unrecognizable as a democracy. It is becoming a full-blown police state.
When I was released my evangelical in-laws were in shock. “I had no idea it was like this,” they said. Now they do. So do more Americans each day. And if Israel loses them, who will continue to shield it from pressure to change course? The clock is ticking.
Addendum: Beinart managed to get out of detention quickly by calling on human rights attorney Gaby Lasky. Lasky represents Ahed Tamimi, the 17-year-old Palestinian woman in the painting, who lives in the occupied village of Nabi Saleh and spent 8 months in prison recently for slapping an Israeli soldier. It appears that Beinart’s case has already gotten as much attention as hers, and far more outrage; though of course Tamimi’s case is not that unusual. Today Samidoun released a report stating, “In July 2018, Israeli occupation forces arrested 520 Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territories, including 69 children, nine women and five journalists.”