At a January meeting of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Cliff Kindy learned about Rabbi Asherman’s good-bye to Art Gish after his CPT stint in Palestine. “Are there poor people in Athens, Ohio?” When Art responded affirmatively, Arik handed him one dollar to share with a street person. “On a mission of mercy your journey is protected.” After recounting this story Rich Myer handed Cliff three dollar bills and requested he share them with three Palestinian friends for their projects. Surely this would protect Cliff’s travels!
January 17, 2011, Cliff returned from a round trip to the airport in Tel Aviv. He had planned to rejoin CPT in the West Bank after being refused entry in 1998 after five years there. One task now was accompanying Palestinian students walking to school since Israel would not allow a bus into their village and Israeli settlers would attack walking students.
Many human rights observers and peacemakers have been refused entry to Israel because of work in Palestine, and these only a slice of a massive refusal of entry to returning Palestinians. Palestinian rejections are a calculated policy to upend the Palestinian demographic advantage over Israel.
These refusals by Israel parallel the loss of control Israel feels over the changing political scene. Israeli refusals of CPTers have jumped from eight in seventeen years prior to 2010 to six in the last year. The International Solidarity Movement has had “you could safely say dozens” of refusals. Additionally, Noam Chomsky and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire were refused entry this year.
Cliff flew January 15 to Israel. Immigration asked why he was visiting, the duration of his stay and if he was alone. The agent tried to swipe his passport through the computer unsuccessfully. She sent him to the “waiting room” while someone else processed his passport.
Shortly security invited Cliff to another office. A woman asked the original questions and where he was staying. At this juncture after a male agent joined her, Cliff shared openly he was a CPT volunteer and had been in Israel/Palestine during the 90's. He told the agents about CPT riding bus #18 in Jerusalem as a protest after suicide bombers had hit it twice. He commented he appreciated Israel’s willingness to let truth speak freely without hiding realities.
After another spell in the “waiting room” Cliff was taken to another office. Here three agents requested home phone, cell phone, email addresses and team contact. Cliff explained he would stay with the Hebron team before traveling to the project in Tuwani. “Who is meeting you? What is the address and phone number of the apartment?” Cliff didn’t know which CPTers would be in Hebron nor the apartment address and chose not to give the phone number. One agent asked, “Will you travel to Hebron on the Israeli settlement bus?”
Cliff detailed Palestinian bus travel to Hebron via Bethlehem. Though he didn’t remember the apartment address, he assured security he could walk there. The agent was skeptical, “I was in Hebron while in the military. Much has changed in these years.”
Cliff leaned onto the table and explained, “A great deal is changing in Israel/Palestine. The Palestinian nonviolence movement is making great strides. Israel arrests and jails the nonviolent leadership to halt that progress. Many more countries recognize Palestine with pre-1967 borders. The boycott of Israeli products, divestment from companies profiting by the occupation and sanctions against Israel are adding pressure.”
The agent responded that his training was in that field but it wouldn’t change anything today. By now Cliff was clear he was not going to Tuwani this trip. Back again in the “waiting room” Cliff had his own security guard.
Shortly after, security took him into the hall and explained they wanted to examine his luggage. Cliff asked to call the U.S. Embassy. The officer said that could happen later.
At baggage claim Cliff met the security director and asked if he knew Rabbi Asherman. When he indicated he did, Cliff told the story of the protected journey. “Why did it not suffice here?” “Your choice,” said security. “No, it isn’t; my choice would have me in Palestine,” Cliff retorted. Then Cliff explained that as director of security he did have choices. He could support changes toward justice with Palestinians.
Two young Israeli women joined them and Cliff was informed they would examine his luggage. For an hour in another room seven different people processed his two back packs and searched his body while Cliff told stories of CPT.
Back in the “waiting room” Cliff explained the political situation to his guard who told Cliff they couldn’t speak together. Cliff turned to a Palestinian who entered the room. The guard separated them and wouldn’t allow them to talk. So Cliff began to speak to the silent TV where a soccer match played across the screen. The Palestinian responded with nods of agreement and the guard interjected with, “That’s not true!” The dialogue continued under new rules!
Soon guards took one pack planeside and during a conference Cliff again asked to call the embassy. Security told him, “Israel has decided you cannot enter Israel and cannot have a phone call. You can call the embassy in Atlanta because you are a U.S. citizen [!]. You can return in 2020 if you carry a letter from the Minister of the Interior. We will soon take you to the plane.”
A new security person guarded Cliff while he changed clothes. He wouldn’t allow Cliff to close the door but seemed under orders to watch Cliff closely, maybe expecting a dash for Palestinian territory? Then his personal guard and the sixteenth security person led Cliff through a back elevator to the exit gate, down the jetway and onto the plane.
Cliff commented on the experience, “Something very dramatic is happening. I will not have to wait until 2020 to return and then Palestinian security will clear me to visit friends in Palestine. Maybe this was a protected journey.”