Ann Holubeshen on the recent trip by Ontario Chiefs of Police to Israel

Read by Ann Holubeshen, member of the Palestinian Community of Hamilton.

My family and I spent the summer in The Gaza Strip and would like to share with you the experience we had with the border police. Now don’t confuse this border with the kind of border we have between Canada and the US. This is something very different. It’s an internal border imposed by the state of Israel in its occupation of the Palestinian territories. It can change at a whim depending on where Israel wants to place check-points and the Wall which is not universally recognized by the international community.

Then we can ask the Question “ Why Chief Brian Mullan did you participate in such a junket? And whom did you speak to from the Palestinian Community to get your blessing to go?

Upon arriving at the Rafah crossing and entering the terminal there were a 1000 Palestinians waiting inside. Once outside, there were just as many outside waiting in line to board buses. I found out later the Israeli’s only allow 5 buses to pass from Egypt to the Israeli terminal crossing, and some of the Palestinians assumed the bus I was on, was one of those 5 but it is not.

We were the lucky ones because of our passports our bus was the VIP which only had 12 people on board. We passed the Palestinian bus and “ Oh my God” that bus is jammed back full of 100 plus people on an ordinary coach bus that holds about 40 people. Even the driver could hardly move. I heard rumors of this bus, but when you actually see it the first thing you think of is “God help those People”. And I also found out later an elderly man died on that same bus we saw. Apparently he suffered a heart attack. That’s what we were told.

Once inside the Israeli terminal the metal detectors went off when I was passing through. I had to then take off remaining jewelry and belt and shoes, but still went off. Then I was directed by a border police officer to a small cubicle where another police officer had to pat search me down. Humiliation and intimidation from the very beginning. I had been going through metal detectors for 2 days(in Canada, Italy and Cairo) and not once did they do that me. I was also the only foreigner at the time crossing into Gaza. I was surprised not to see foreigners entering. In the 6 hours waiting no one else was searched.

Of course the questions started, or you might say interrogation. Every so often in our 6 hour time at the terminal one of the border control police would come to me and ask me questions. Questions like:

Why am I here? How long am I staying? Where am I staying? How do my children get to hold a Canadian passport when their father is a Palestinian? Now the personal questions start. How I met my husband? How long have we been married? What do we do for a living in Canada? How much is our income? And this one which is odd, How do you and your husband communicate, he speaks Arabic and you speak English? You cannot argue with them at any point (intimidation) because they have the authority to let you enter or send you back.

Finally after 6 hours our passports were returned to us and off to join our bus to the Palestinian side. Or so I thought. We still had to have our luggage searched. While our luggage was being searched we witnessed a customs police officers grabbing an elderly woman(Palestinian) by the arm, twisting it around almost breaking it and forcibly sitting her at the bench(abuse). This caused my children to cling to me even harder. My children are aged 9 and 12. And finally after that we were off to the Palestinian side.

Now the exit from the Gaza Strip was just as bad as entering. My sons now call the taxi’s they allow through the gates to the bus as “The cooking taxis.” You can imagine why? Apparently there are only 50 taxi’s allowed to go through the gate to the bus per day and it depends on how early one arrives at the border to book a seat in one. Our taxi was #35 and we arrived at 7:00a.m. And booked our names right away. We finally loaded the taxi at 9:30a.m. sat in line for almost an hour before we moved up and it was our taxi’s turn to go through. It was now very hot, no breeze and no shade. Inside the cars it is so hot and with 8 people per taxi, you can’t imagine. That’s why my children call them the “Cooking Taxi’s”. Then to the metal detectors and I cringed because I did not want a repeat of what happened entering Gaza. Good no one set them off.

Straight to the bus and off to the Israeli terminal and more metal detectors, where still nothing happened till my husband Nafiz went through. He was now stuck there lifting his shirt back and front in front of the video cameras. What were they looking for “explosives”?

You ask me. Chief Mullan you tried on a vest with explosives. Yes your picture was on the news with one on. You tell me.

Inside the terminal Nafiz was directed by a border police officer to a small cubicle where he had to strip down to his under clothes (humiliation) to be searched. Why? Who knows maybe it happened because he was with me the only foreigner crossing once again that day.

You know with all that we experienced while inside Gaza, the most stories my children want to tell is that of the border crossing to their friends. Is this the kind of stories we want our children telling here in Hamilton? Is this the kind of border crossings we want implemented here in Hamilton? In Ontario? Or why not between the provinces when traveling through Canada?

So I ask the question again “Chief Brian Mullan, what were you thinking agreeing to such a junket? And whom in the Palestinian Community did you speak to and get your blessing from? My husband Nafiz is on the executive board and he and none of the members have any knowledge of whom you spoke to.

Then on a personal note I would like to ask one more question of our Police Chief. While in Israel, did it ever occur to anyone of you to go into Gaza and see for yourself just how these Palestinian people live day-by-day and the hardships they endure on a daily basis under the Israeli occupation? Example being: My brother in law who is a taxi driver, loses money when he cannot work for road closures, or the kids who go to work the markets in the city and don’t report home for a few days because of the closures, or just even going to sleep at night is difficult. Load gunfire, which I personally could not get used too. Make you wonder what goes through the children’s mind as they try to sleep at night. Even traveling to a nearby water station to get drinking water(you just don’t drink the tap water there. It will make you ill). I have lots of stories to tell first hand of my own experiences being inside The Gaza Strip. I tell everyone I speak to these days “We need to be thankful we live here in Canada”.

Thank you