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Palestinian-American denied entry to West Bank for summer skateboard program

posted on: Aug 11, 2017

SkateQilya skate camp in the northern West Bank town of Qalailya brings together 35 campers from towns across the West Bank for skateboarding training. (Photo: SkateQilya/Facebook)

 

By: Abu Rahss
Source: Mondoweiss

Last week I was supposed to travel to Palestine to be a camp counselor at SkateQilya Skate Camp in the West Bank town of Qalqilya in Palestine.  SkateQilya is a small organization run by my friends Mohammad Othman, Adam Abel, and legendary American skater Kenny Reed. The group runs a summer camp and provides year-round skate-related programming for kids in Qalqilya and nearby villages and towns. 

In 2013, Mohammad and Adam spearheaded an effort to build a skate ramp in Qalqilya and they have been intimately involved in supporting and growing the budding skate community in the small West Bank city ever since.  Last summer I was a counselor at the inaugural SkateQilya Summer Camp, a three-week coed program with 11 local girls and 11 boys.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I was very much looking forward to returning this summer, especially since we had expanded the program to 35 campers (we have spent the past two months fundraising for the camp and continue to do so).

Professional skateboarder Kenny Reed speaks with Palestinian children attending a summer camp in the West Bank town of Qalilya where they learn to skateboard. (Photo: SkateQilya/Facebook)

Mohammad Othman gives a T-shirt to a Palestinian camper at SkateQilya. (Photo: SkateQilya/Facebook)

Unfortunately, I was denied entry after eight hours of being interrogated aggressively and treated unpleasantly by Israeli border security at the Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan.  I had landed in Amman at 9 a.m. on Thursday, August 3 and gotten a taxi straight to the Allenby crossing.  I arrived at the Israeli side of the bridge around 11:30 a.m.  Although I’m a U.S. and German citizen (I’m born and raised in Washington DC and my mother is German) and should have no problem passing through Israeli security, my father is of Palestinian origin, so I went in expecting extra questioning and waiting (my father left Bethlehem, Palestine for the U.S. in 1957 at age 5). 

I have traveled to Palestine five times before and have been hassled every time by Israeli authorities to varying degrees.

After going up to the window and presenting my passport like all travelers, I was questioned for 15 minutes after which my passport was taken and I was told to sit and wait, as I had been expecting.  Palestinians have to sit and wait while Europeans, Americans, and other international travelers pass through without any problem 95 percent of the time.  After two hours of waiting, I was finally called to be questioned.  It was unpleasant and antagonistic from the start and I was questioned for about 30 minutes about my family history, who I know in the West Bank, if I attend protests in the U.S., if I attend protests in Palestine, and much more. My phone was taken and looked through for five minutes (a young woman looked through my Instagram account thoroughly but seemed upset that she couldn’t find whatever it was she was looking for).  

I have no involvement with any Palestine-related organization other than SkateQilya and have worked full time in the financial world since graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2010.  I also make music and videos with DC Record Label FHTMG. We made the first ever rap music video in North Korea in 2014 and released a music video filmed in Palestine earlier this year.  

Back at the crossing between Israel and Jordan, I then waited for another hour before being taken to a back room and questioned further about the same things by two new border officers (they also took my fingerprints and took headshots).  After this round of questioning, they informed me that since I’m going to the West Bank and not Israel, I have to talk with an official from the Israeli army.  After waiting for another hour, a young baby-faced army officer who seemed like an American college kid came to talk to me.  He was the least antagonistic of anyone I had dealt with but after 15 minutes of talking with him, he nonchalantly told me that since I’m involved with an NGO I need an entrance coordination from Beit El and he was going to send me back to Jordan.  He said I could come back and try to get in once I get this security coordination.  He spoke to my friend Mohammad, the director of SkateQilya on the phone and told him this is the only way I could get in.  After trying to plead my case in vain, I waited for another hour to get my passport back and was then escorted outside to wait for a bus back to the Jordanian side of the border.  

Camper practices on a ramp at the SkateQilya summer program where Palestinian children from the West Bank learn to skateboard. (Photo: SkateQilya/Facebook)

Mohammad Othman fits a helmet on a Palestinian child attending skateboarding camp in the West Bank. (Photo: SkateQilya/Facebook)

I took a taxi back to Amman and checked into a hotel in around 8 p.m. and had to scramble to figure out what to do. With the camp starting in just two days, we decided it was too much to try to run around and chase a work permit that the army probably wasn’t going to give us in any case.  I began searching for flights and ended up buying a ticket to leave for the next morning.  I’m now in London staying with a friend and will soon return home to Washington DC. 

I had planned on releasing the above music video, which we filmed mainly at the skate ramp in Qalqilya after arriving in Palestine, but obviously, I had to change my plans.