A German citizen was detained for five hours by Shin Bet and interrogated about his “Palestinian blood” as he attempted to enter Israel.
Nadim Sarrouh, 34, was returning from a short trip to Jordan on August 11 with his Israeli wife and her family, when his passport was not returned. at the Rabin border crossing in the Arava. His wife and her family had already gone through border control. After waiting 45 minutes, he was beckoned into one of the interrogation booths by a Shin Bet security service interrogator.
Sarrouh told Haaretz he has been detained and questioned many times on entering Israel, once even for seven hours – but never like this.
After the usual questions from a border officer in the room (where are you from, who are you with, what are your plans in Israel, etc) the Shin Bet agent asked him if his wife was pregnant. When he said she wasn’t, the interrogator smiled, and replied: “Okay, so she is fine, waiting in the heat.” It was noon, and about 45 degrees Celsius.
“She started by asking where I am from,” Sarrouh said. “I said I am from Germany. She asked me where I am really from. I said, I was born in Berlin, Germany, have a German passport and no other and am thus a German citizen.”
Then she said: “Your blood isn’t German, right? Your blood is Palestinian.” He replied: “I don’t know about that, but if my blood is anything, it’s probably also Polish.” Sarrouh’s mother was of Polish origin, born in Germany.
The Shin Bet investigator continued: “‘Do you know, that you are a refugee?’ He replied, I am not a refugee. “But yes, you’re a refugee,” she insisted. “Don’t you know that the UN considers you, like any other descendant of Arabs from this area as Palestinian refugees? No other people in the world keep their refugee status, after becoming citizens of another country, but the Palestinians, yes.’”
Sarrouh’s family were Christian Palestinians who Lebanese citizens because of the war, and so did not receive refugee status. His wife’s family were originally from the same Maronite village, and moved to the Galilee village of Jish, where they still reside. Sarrouh and his wife, Venous Ayoub, married in the ruins of their old village about a year and a half ago. She is working on a masters’ degree in urban planning in Berlin, and he is a director of operations in a computer games company and a martial arts instructor.
The investigator then asked him what his views were about Gaza. “I told her that I don’t think that they should ask me about my political opinions in order to decide whether or not I’m allowed to enter,” he told Haaretz. Her reply was that “We can actually do anything. We are not Germany! We are not letting in refugees just like that, like your Merkel is doing! We check who we let in!”
She pointed to a large Israeli flag and said: “You see that? That means that you’re in Israel. It isn’t your country. You don’t belong here. We can detain you for a few days, decide whether or not to let you enter, and if you don’t like it – you can take your passport and return to Jordan.”
He finally told her that Gaza is under an occupation and a blockade, in which a powerful occupier has been oppressing a vulnerable population for decades.
The interrogator replied: “We aren’t oppressing anyone. Hamas is oppressing your people.” When he told her disagreed, she said: “You can disagree with me, because we’re a free and democratic country.”
While the interrogator asked him how he supports the Palestinians, and what he thinks of Hamas and violence, the border control inspector took his phone and examined it, writing names, numbers and comments on a piece of paper. After that the interrogator left.
He was then asked again what he does in his free time in Berlin, what his profession is, and to which groups or organisations he is connected. He was then allowed to go outside without his passport. When he emerged, he was petrified from shock and unable to speak, according to his wife. When he could finally speak, he told her it was “an entirely different level of interrogation” from what he had experienced before.
He was then called back into the room. The same border inspector was there, with a new Shin Bet interrogator. She shouted that she was only called in “when something bad has happened. We know that you did something bad and you know it too, so the sooner you comply, the sooner this can be over. Don’t lie to us, because we already know everything anyway, and we can see when you lie too. We have a lot of video footage from you, we know where you went and what you did. We can also arrest your wife and your wife’s family and interrogate them,” she told him.
Sarrouh said he was shocked, and almost laughed at the claim that he had done “something bad.” The interrogator then asked the same questions that had already been asked, but “in a louder voice and more aggressively”, barely giving him time to answer. She repeatedly said, “Don’t lie,” and “Don’t lie if you want to see your wife again.” When he responded that he wasn’t lying she said, “But let’s say we proved that you lied, you know what will happen to you?”
He replied: “You’ll probably ban my entry.” She asked him “For how long?” When pushed, he guessed, “Probably forever.” She replied: “No. Don’t exaggerate. For 15 years. After all, we’re a civilised country.”
He told her that he plays the oud. She responded, “Ah, that’s a unique instrument. That shows that you’re connected to your culture. And you still want to tell me that you’re not an activist?”
When he told her he owns a martial arts gym, she asked if he had taught Palestinians in the West Bank. He told her he hadn’t and she replied: “You’re a smart and successful person. You have a good job. How do you give back to your community?”
When he didn’t understand, and she explained: “How do you give back socially, do you donate, do you do benefit concerts with your band, do you teach children in martial arts for free?” He said that he didn’t – apart from some benefit concerts. “So you don’t give money to Gaza?” she asked. When he replied that he does not, she told him she could see in his body language that he was lying.
She asked why he was nervous. He replied, “Because you’re applying pressure. Because you’re in a position of power now, and if you were in my situation you’d be nervous too.” She told him maybe he was nervous because he is a criminal.
He told her his family is Christian but he doesn’t consider himself a Christian. “That makes no difference,” she decided for him. “You’re a Christian.” She said a word in Arabic – he doesn’t speak Arabic – and he told her he didn’t understand. She started shouting at him, he said. She asked whether he knows that many Christians were expelled from Bethlehem in 2000.
When he said he did not, she questioned him: “You don’t know? You post your articles on Facebook and call us the oppressor but you do not know about this? You are a Ph.D., right? You must be much cleverer than me. Your memory should be perfect, right? You cannot remember this? Don’t you have to know all the facts, before making an opinion?”
She also spoke about his blood, saying she didn’t believe him when he said that he doesn’t feel any special connection to Jerusalem. She told him that if he isn’t allowed to enter, it will be because of his actions and not his opinions. He asked her what actions she meant.
She asked him: “Did you go to fight in Syria? Did your friends fight in Syria?”
He said no, and she asked again about Gaza and his attitude towards Gaza. “Okay, you’re a smart guy with a Ph.D. What’s the solution for Gaza?” she asked. When he was silent, she asked him: “When did you last throw a stone at an Israeli?” Sarrouh burst out laughing.
At about 5:20pm – more than five hours since he was detained – he received his passport and joined his family.
A spokesman for Shin Bet said that they “reject out of hand the claims of the above-mentioned about his treatment during his investigation at the border crossing,” saying the interrogation is required for state security, and was conducted in a practical and professional manner. They added: “It should be noted that the above-mentioned, a resident of Germany of Palestinian origin, refrained from cooperating throughout his investigation, behaving rudely and aggressively towards the security personnel. During his interrogation various findings aroused suspicion that he is involved in hostile activity and is connected to hostile organisations. At the conclusion of the security investigation he was allowed to enter Israel.”
Sarrouh told Haaretz that he was polite, friendly and smiling throughout the interrogation, in order to communicate with the interrogators as human beings. “I ask myself why I didn’t protest immediately about their racist discourse and practice,” he said. “But they made it clear that they had the power, and I probably couldn’t really [protest] without taking a risk that I wouldn’t be allowed to join my family.”
Population, Immigration and Border Authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told Haaretz: “We must mention that the Israeli traveler herself (his wife) and her family began to behave in a disorderly manner and accused the border inspector of being a ‘Nazi,’ until the manager of the crossing said he would summon police assistance.”
Ayoub told Haaretz that after four hours of waiting and uncertainty, when the border inspectors refused to answer her father’s questions about his son-in-law, a verbal confrontation erupted them. Ayoub said: “My father said, ‘You and the Nazis, where’s the difference?’ but that was said in a moment of fury and frustration. As a member of the Polish resistance, my husband’s grandfather was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, including Dachau, and we’re certainly aware of the horrors of the Holocaust.”