From the checkpoint at Qalandiya (dividing Ramallah from Jerusalem) to the West Bank towns of Nablus and Hebron, racial profiling is rife in Palestine. Palestinians going about their daily errands will be stopped, asked to produce ID, to state the purpose for their whereabouts and made to feel like a foreigner in their own country. Put simply, to be a Palestinian in Palestine makes you a suspect for any and every past, present and future crime. It is an inescapable status.
This is the conclusion that I have come after having witnessed and experienced such behaviour.
I am in Hebron, it is mid afternoon and there is a lone Palestinian walking down the street. He has entered an area of the city where there is a concentration of Israeli Jews living. His presence automatically draws the guise of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) personnel. He is asked to produce his ID and state his reasoning for walking in that particular location. He does not argue, he does not protest. This process is not new to him. Unfortunately it's the norm when one is a Palestinian.
However the charade does not end there. He is made to wait whilst the IDF radio back to their units to check that his ID is valid. This check could take five minutes or it could take forty five minutes. It really depends on the attitude of the IDF personnel, both the one detaining him and the one checking the validity of his ID back at the unit's head quarters. So he simply waits (and waits). However he is not alone for long. In the meantime the IDF personnel detain another two Palestinians who happen to be walking pass. The same procedure starts over. It is clear that no Palestinian is immune from being under suspicion.
All this for trying to make your way home, to meet with friends or heavens forgive, for a leisurely walk. This is not a situation you can escape; it is simply something you have to accept, for as long as you a Palestinian you will be a suspect.
It is not a situation or feeling many visitors to Palestine would have to endure. Most have lighter coloured skin and/or lighter coloured hair. Whilst their light complexion would make them noticeable amongst a crowd of local people in most Palestinian cities, in the eyes of the IDF they simply assimilate into the background. They are not Palestinian and hence they never arouse any suspicions.
Even travelling in a group with international visitors does not provide a moment of reprieve any Palestinian. Your presence raises suspicion, there is no escaping it.
Travelling from Ramallah to Taybeh I received a small, firsthand insight as to what Palestinians must have to endure on daily basis; raising suspicion by simply being present, by being Palestinian.
There were three of us in the car. Myself (of southern Mediterranean descent) in the back seat, situated behind the driver, the driver, a Filipino American and in the front passenger seat an American with a light complexion. In the distance we could the Israeli Police flagging down drivers as they approached. We slowed down as directed as we approached.
The Israeli Police officer looked inside our vehicle. He looked at the driver, and then his gaze shifted to the front seat passenger. He glimpsed at me and seemed satisfied. Nothing roused any suspicion. He began to direct us to move along. However he quickly looked back at me and directed us to move our vehicle to the side. His stance stiffened. He called another Police Officer (bearing a rather large gun across his body) to make his way over to assist him. A second glance at me and he had noticed my darker skin and hair. I had raised a suspicion in him. How? Why? Simple, I looked Palestinian (Arab), and thus I was automatically a suspect.
We were directed to present our passports. He took a momentary glance at the passports of my two American companions situated in the front of the vehicle, however they were never suspected of anything. The questions were saved for me. I handed him my passport and then the questions followed:
What was I doing travelling in the area? I was travelling to visit a local Palestinian village up the road.
Where was I from? What city exactly? I told him my hometown, doubting he had ever heard of such a small city. However he seemed satisfied.
His tone quickly changed. His stance softened. He became jovial. He even made a joke and then sent us on our way.
Fortunately I am an international visitor to Palestine. When this became apparent the air of suspicion evaporated. However for a brief moment I was seen as a Palestinian because of my darker skin and hair. I raised suspicions and was a suspect. It is a situation I can escape. A status that I am not burdened to carry. However for the Palestinians there is no escape. For even in Palestine, every Palestinian is a suspect.
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Raffaele Piccolo is a student at the University of Adelaide. He holds an Honours Degree of Bachelor of International Studies and is currently studying towards his final year of a Bachelor of Laws. He has a keen interest in public policy and community development. In his spare time he is involved in many community organisations.