From the third story of Jaffa Gate Hostel, I can see two churches, a mosque, and a synagogue poking through the blanket of rooftops and souks that is Old Jerusalem. Noor, the innkeeper, insisted that I come up here to catch the view. His hostel looks like it’s been hollowed out of some huge stone house, with each room resembling a brick cave, stuffed with beds. Even so, I’m one of the only guests here; most have cancelled due to what they’ve read in the news.
But the sky is perfectly clear – not only of clouds, but of rockets. The city is quiet, and the police, though intimidating and thick in the streets, are bent on keeping it that way. Far from the conflict in Gaza, I actually feel safe here.
Not like in the airport. I was “randomly selected” for a strip search, probably due to having multiple Arab stamps in my passport. That, and the fact that my final destination was the West Bank. I felt bad for Sophie and her mom, who, along with the rest of their family, had been taking care of me all week in Germany; they had to watch from behind a rope as I was grilled by airport security for twenty minutes. “Why did you visit Lebanon? Jordan? The UAE? What’s your father’s name? And his father’s name? Why are you going to the West Bank? Don’t you know it’s dangerous? What’s in that case?” And so on.
Then, they had to wait as I was led off to the side, where I would undergo a full-body physical search. Honestly, I had expected this, and thought it was a little funny that a 19 year-old girl toting around a trumpet was threatening enough to bother spending an extra hour and a half on. At the same time, I was a little red, a little nervous, and actually feeling guilty. Even though I had told nothing but the truth up until that point, the intense, repetitive questioning made me feel like I was trying to cover up some terrible plot. It wasn’t until later that I realized I shouldn’t be made to feel like a criminal just because I’m an Arab wanting to reach the West Bank.
The physical itself was fine. In fact, it was very calm. One of the security guards tried to make small talk while checking my socks; imagine hearing “So what’s the weather like in California?” while someone’s searching between your toes for weapons of mass destruction.
I’m being honest when I say that the worst part, the most nerve-wracking thing, was when they asked me to fully take apart my trumpet. I gently disassembled it and placed each piece of brass in a red plastic bin. Then the security guard grabbed the bin and rushed out, jostling the pieces as he went. It got through okay in the end, though. The same guard who asked me about California struck up a conversation about the trumpet (she plays guitar herself). I liked her. Clearly the good cop, as opposed to the woman from Haifa who thought I was an idiot for wanting to teach music in the West Bank. The thing is, though, I think my instrument was possibly the reason the search didn’t stretch on for longer, or that I wasn’t flat-out turned back to America (as is typical of many Arabs and Arab-Americans wanting to reach Israel nowadays). After talking to me about music and why I chose Palestine to teach it, the good-cop security guard sped up the searching process, explained my situation to her colleagues, and quickly led me straight to the airplane, cutting ahead of a line of people checking in and stamping passports. Then again, that’s exactly what the good cop is supposed to do. That, and give you free snack vouchers as recompense for time and dignity lost during a strip search.