Barack, A Few Travel Tips

Mr. President, I hear you are traveling to Israel next week.  As a concerned patriotic American citizen of Palestinian descent, I have some pointers for you.

Now, I assume you’ll be flying into Tel Aviv.  Usually, when non-Jews arrive there, especially if they are a little darker-skinned, they are asked to wait in a… let’s call it a “VIP Room.”  Incidentally, the room is quite nice. There’s a water cooler, comfortable chairs, and a soda machine.  It’s probably the only place in the world where you can be racially profiled and get an ice-cold Coca-Cola all at once.

To avoid the room, I would mention that you are the President of the United States.  It might help.

You may get strip-searched.  Saying you are an American doesn’t help much here.  I’ve tried.  I even sang the national anthem last time an Israeli soldier was looking down my pants.  Right after I said, “Oh say can you see,” he said, “Not much.”

To escape this embarrassment, I would mention that you are the President of the United States.  It might help.

In case they don’t already know, you might not want to tell Israeli security you are half-Muslim.  As a fellow half-Muslim, I can tell you they don’t really care about the percentage.  Any bit of Muslim freaks them out. And I’m not sure if you heard, but the fans of one of Israel’s soccer teams, Beitar Jerusalem, actually protested when the club signed two Muslim players.  When one of them scored in a game last week, hundreds of fans actually walked out of the stadium.  One of the fans later stated about the Muslim players, “It’s not racism. They just shouldn’t be here.” Hopefully, they don’t know your middle name is “Hussein.” Maybe they didn’t watch the inauguration.

In any case, I would mention that you are the President of the United States.  It might help.

This next one might be a little tough.  Maybe you didn’t hear, but lately there has been a little “African problem” in Israel.  Over the past several years, tens of thousands immigrants from Africa, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have entered the “only democracy in the Middle East.”  Most of them are looking for work, and some are political refugees.  Israel has recently rounded up many of them for deportation.  Oh, and by the way, they don’t call them “refugees” or “migrants,” they call them “infiltrators.”  Israelis have held numerous demonstrations in Tel Aviv, where most of the migrants live, to demand an African exodus from Israel.

And the refugees aren’t the only Africans Israel seems to have a problem with.  About 150,000 Israeli Jews are of Ethiopian descent.  A number of news organizations reported early this year that Israeli government doctors had been giving Ethiopian Jewish women contraceptives either against their will or without their knowledge.  The Israeli government admitted the practice and decided to stop it once it was reported on.  See, Mr. Obama, many rabbis in Israel have questioned the “Jewishness” of Ethiopian Jews.  And if you’re not Jewish in Israel, well… I’d be glad to give you the full story on that someday.  So they’re not too crazy about their own Ethiopian citizens, and last year, Benjamin Netanyahu warned that illegal immigrants from Africa “threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”  I know, “Jewish” and “democratic”? It’s confusing.  I’ll try to explain that one to you one day too, but I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to.  But I think one thing is clear.  Israel does not seem to like Africans too much.

Now I know you’re not from Eritrea, Ethiopia, or Sudan, but I probably wouldn’t advertise too strongly that your dad was from Kenya.  This might be really hard, given your skin tone and everything, especially if you’re bringing Michelle with you.

To avoid any dangers of getting deported to Nairobi, I would just keep mentioning that you are the President of the United States.  It might help.

OK, finally, when you leave, Israeli security officers are going to search your bags.  And they don’t do it casually with a smile like our airport security here.  They go through your stuff like a wife looking for evidence of an affair.  You might remind them that you, as the President of the United States, sign their checks.

And they’re going to strip search you again.  Yes, on the way out too.  Strip searches in Israel are “buy one, get one free.”  They perform the strip search in a section of the airport aside from where the normal operations are conducted.  You’ll run into a few of your Palestinian-American constituents when you’re there.  I know it’s a weird place for someone to ask to take a picture with you, but to us, it’s just part of visiting home.

You don’t have to mention to us that you are the President of the United States.  We already know.  We supported you, twice.  Maybe you can return the favor.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. …Except he doesn’t sign the security guards’ checks. ALL of the aid the US gives Israel is earmarked for military spending inside the US. It’s just a loopy subsidy for McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, GE, Northrop and their friends. The entire sum over the last 30 years (since the peace treaty with Egypt mandated it, as exchange for the Sinai peninsula) comes to a total of less than the bailout AIG got in 2008.
    Oh, and I don’t hear you complaining about Germany or South Korea, where American troops are actually stationed. Israel doesn’t ask the US to sacrifice its children for its security. Just a little discount on military supplies.

    • I an glad you mentioned this as you are quite right. At a time of fiscal austerity, however, the defense budget is being cut. Veterans are being denied benefits they were promised when they enlisted. US dollars should be spent on veterans of the US military before they are given to other countries.

      • Except what SHOULD happen with US tax dollars and what actually DOES happen are two different mattters. And we pay for far more than the US Military Industrial complex – the $3.1 BILLION a year we GIVE to Israel goes for such diverse things as checkpoint construction, wall construction and weaponry for the Israeli Army. The guns that killed two young man in ‘Anabta (Palestine) last week were American M-16s!

    • Of course but the point remains that Israel absolutely depends on this subsidy. What would they do with out it? And South Korea is different, especially now, from Germany. There are plenty of people in the U.S. who are pissed about U.S. troops being stationed all over the world.

    • They don’t need to ask us for troops they just get us to fight there wars for them (see Beirut 1982 see Iraq 1990 see Iraq 2003 etc…)

      • Brilliant answer Ya Dirar. They have always used divide and conquer to weaken the two parties and then they will occupy the land when both parties are exhausted. Unfortunately, the American haven’t learned neither did the Arabs.

    • Right, ” Israel doesn’t ask the US to sacrifice its children for its security.” Like the US invaded Iraq to fight of WMDs. And lost 4000 troops in the process. And injured 50,000. But whose counting?

      Your email and three dollars will buy you a cup of Starbuck’s coffee. If US subsidy for Israel’s militarism were to dry roast out, the “Democratic” republic of the most corrupt and immoral country on earth will dry up like a toad stuck in the Negev. Wake up and smell the coffee — oh, by the way, did you know fifty percent of Starbuck’s profits ‘filter’ back into the occupied territories?

      • May I point out that it’s “who’s counting”.

        Also, there are no moral countries. There are no countries without corruption. The end justifies the means. EVERYWHERE. Stop fooling yourself. The only truth is that there are victims and persecutors, but they are both interchangeable. Look at the Jews in WWII: victims, and now, as a whole, with very few protesting, they’ve become persecutors in chief. Wake up and spit on your politicians, all over the world. That MAY clean their filth.

  2. Haha – this is so funny! Unfortunately this is exactly why I chickened out from visiting Jerusalem a couple of years back :(

  3. “Most of them are looking for work, and some are political refugees.”

    Amer, I would consider researching and rephrasing this. It’s very ambiguous and in most interpretations is either wrong or uninformative. It implies that looking for work is exclusive of and a primary reason “most” fled here, while only “some” (a comparative quantifier used in proximity to most) being political refugees and/or seeking refugee status. In fact, while only like a dozen or so are recognized political refugees (because of Israel’s failure to comply with the Refugee Convention), most of them are seeking asylum/refugee status, but Israel denies even the process to them. What is clear is 90+% come from states which the US Dept. of State recognize refugees from. To state “most are looking for work” and “some are refugees” implies that a majority are merely work migrants in one interpretation OR it implies some useless information as to the fact that a majority are unemployed or dissatisfied with their work while at the same time some of these people are deserving of the name political refugee. It’s great that you don’t call them infiltrators, but it’s probably best to refer to them as “asylum-seekers” which is the standard used by activists in the field and media activists/bloggers.

  4. Mareli: first of all, the “aid” to Israel is indeed being cut as part of the defence cuts. Second of all, while the US should do a lot of stuff as you mentioned with its money, it should also honor international treaties it signed. Unless you’d like us to retake the Sinai peninsula, which is fine by me.

  5. 1. The Israel-Egypt peace accords from 1979.
    2. Believe it or not, countries are not required to fulfill treaties they did not sign. Israel chose to refuse IAEA perks (and there are many) to preserve a right to use nuclear power for deterrence. Iran signed a treaty prohibiting it from developing numes, so it’s not allowed to.
    Why is this so difficult to understand?

  6. Phil, one might also argue that the US absolutely depends on a friendly country championing its values in the middle of a backwards, oppressive and former Soviet-supporting region, and that it draws many many benefits from not having to risk American lives to secure the interests of Civilization there. Paying two billion dollars a year TO AMERICAN COMPANIES for such return is undoubtedly one of the best investments the US has ever made.

    • Hahahahaha this is hilarious!! You actually shared a video where it says Pakestinian refugees are treated inhumanly in Lebanon?? Why are they here in the first place?? Isn’t it because they got invaded and kicked out of their own land?? Oh now you’re gonna say it’s jewish land in the first place… well technically yes but you can’t kick out someone that now lives there because originally it was yours.
      Besides that, a lot of you here are claiming Israel is the ONLY democracy in the middle east. What about Lebanon? check your facts.
      Read Joe Sacco’s “Palestine”, check media outlets besides CNN and BBC and see what’s really going on in Palestine(Israel is not a country,it is an invader), where the Palestinians are treated like animals.Lebanon has enough problems that’s why it does not grant the refugees rights,otherwise it would create even more unbalance.
      Israel is evil, the sooner you understand that,the better.What has it caused besides war and destruction in the middle east? for more than 60 years it’s been here fighting with neighbours , because it came in a violent manner, and conducts itself badly … so what goes around comes around, stop supporting the Zionists. Even you Isrealis, don’t let the Zionists fuck your head up, they make you go through military service and fight against Hezbollah fighters etc, against your will. Wouldn’t you rather go to College normally and live a teenage life? Wouldn’t you like to wake up not fearing a blast or a bomb? Stop oppressing palestinans and they won’t be violent. Stop trying to meddle in Lebanon’s affairs and it won’t fight back through the mighty Hezbollah.

      • Wow. This is the most pathetic sack of lies I’ve read in my life. Let’s see, do I mention that Israel took in the same amount of refugees from Arab countries in the ’40s and ’50s and they’re not in the same situation at all as the Palestinian refugees? Nah. Maybe that a country that’s half controlled by a militia cannot call itself a Democracy? Nah. I think I’ll go with “What has Israel caused besides war and destruction in the middle east?”. Drumroll please:
        The USB flash drive.
        Drip irrigation.
        Instant messaging.
        The firewall.
        The smallest biological computing device ever constructed.
        Largest relief hospital in the 1986 Armenia earthquake.
        Largest relief hospital in the 1999 Turkey earthquake.
        Largest relief hospital in the Haiti earthquake.
        The concept of nondeterministic finite automatons.
        Development of the first Capsule endoscopy solution to record images of the digestive tract.
        Development of the Interferon proteins.
        Discovery of the Aharonov–Bohm effect.
        Discovery of Quasicrystals.
        The Rubinstein bargaining model, one of the most influential findings in game theory.

        I can seriously go on all day. Now where’s Lebanon’s list?

        • I meant what has it brought The Middle East! Damn you Israelis are slow!
          Anyways, of course you have time to develop all this and excel in science and technology when you’re oppressing others, weakening their inner structure by funding factions, signing deals with the likes of King Faysal etc etc. The palestinian people are not dogs , you can’t keep them caged in. You can’t keep oppressing them, the internet is going to be your downfall with camera phones capturing your every move,and trust me, most of these moves are barbaric.
          Long story short, it won’t be long before Iran wipes you out with it’s nuclear bomb, or Hezbollah’s weapons reach Tel Aviv and destroys it… but yeah until then keep inventing stuff

        • Oh and if Hezbollah’s a militia,why do you shiver at the sheer sight of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah? Why has it defeated your “mighty army” in 2006? Bitch please… Zionists are the farthest thing from humanitary, google the Qana massacre, google the landmines that still kill innocent children in the south of Lebanon everyday. Google the phosphore bombs you dropped and cause diseases. Is this human? and who would you rather control the government? a faction friendly to Israel? In your wildest dreams. These days are over, it is time for justice to rise. It’s pathetic being proud of Israel who is hated by 99% of surrounding citizens, the other 1% being corrupt bastards.
          Nique ta mere et ta grand-mere,si elle est toujours en vie.

        • “Let’s see, do I mention that Israel took in the same amount of refugees from Arab countries in the ’40s and ’50s and they’re not in the same situation at all as the Palestinian refugees?”

          Ah, yes, the myth of the “Double Exodus.’

          Dr. Yehouda Shenhav, professor of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University and of Iraqi heritage: “Any reasonable person, Zionist or non-Zionist, must acknowledge that the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi [Arab] Jews is unfounded. Palestinian refugees did not want to leave Palestine….Those who left did not do so of their own volition. In contrast, Jews from Arab lands came to this country under the initiative of the State of Israel and Jewish organizations.” (Ha’aretz, 8 October 2004)

          Avi Shlaim, eminent Israeli historian born into an affluent and influential Jewish family in Baghdad: “We are not refugees, nobody expelled us from Iraq, nobody told us that we were unwanted. But we are the victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict.” (Ha’aretz, August 11, 2005)

          Ran Cohen, member of the Knesset: “I am not a refugee….I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. Nobody is going to define me as a refugee.” (Ha’aretz, 8/10/04)

          Yisrael Yeshayahu, speaker of the Knesset: “We are not refugees. [Some of us] came to this country before the state was born. We had messianic aspirations.”

          Shlomo Hillel, former minister and speaker of the Knesset: “I don’t regard the departure of Jews from Arab lands as that of refugees. They came here because they wanted to, as Zionists.”

          Also, any legitimate grievances Arab Jewish emigrants may have with Arab governments can be pursued through international law. It must be noted, however, that whereas the expulsion of well over one million Palestinians from Palestine between late 1947 and 1967, was carried out by Jewish forces (e.g., Irgun, Sternists, Haganah/Palmach) and the IDF, Palestinians played no role whatsoever in the departure of Jews from Arab countries. In short, apples and oranges.

    • The US always used the Soviet Union, especially, to excuse its non-comformance with its stated values. If one wishes to act as an example, one doesn’t choose as a comparison those who are the worst examples – one compares oneself with the best examples.

    • Eric, Thanks for bringing Israel Apartheid week to my notice. This is a great service you are rendering. I must find out more and see how I can help with the protests against this country built on segregation and hate. Also notify all my friends to participate in Israel apartheid week. Thanks Eric!

    • Am amazed by the premise of this propaganda piece — the arrogant assumption on the part of whoever made this that the entire world is made up of gullible, notoriously uninformed, and historically challenged Americans…. (My apologies to American friends — of course the above is arrogantly condescending, but that’s precisely how I see the makers of this propaganda piece treat their target audience.)

  7. I am a Dutch citizen, born in a country named Suriname. We are a unique country because only in our cojntry the synagogue is next to the biggest mosque in our capital. We live peacefully and there is no problem between Jewish or Muslims or any other religion. My question is why people from other countries don’t come and see for themselves and I think by doing so Jewish will finally accept Palestians and vice versa. Mr. Obama I hope you can come up with a very good plan for both parties, because Palestians are suffering too much. Good luck in Israel

  8. Ah, Dirar. More lies. Never mind that the US entered Lebanon before Israel and pulled out just when Israel went in (so we actually acted as your relief); that the 1990 war was Kuwait’s aar and only put Israel in danger (dozens of SCUDs hit us because of the US invasion; and that in 2003 Israel went out of its way to advise Bush AGAINST invading Iraq because we knew it would strengthen Iran. The facts are that Israel has been the West’s front in the war on terror for over 50 years, since long before anybody admitted it was going on. It’s IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians that have been dying for American freedom, not the other way around.

    • I agree w/your main point – that the conclusion that many make, namely that Israel is using the US, is wrong. The US only supports Israel for just the reason you cite. The US acts in its own interests – always.

    • “The War on Terror” is what has brought so much destruction to the U.S. and so much despotism to the Arab world. Unfortunately, constituting the entire world as a “battlefield” is only turning the entire world against us. In addition, the US has a stronger tradition of civil liberties than Israel, and that’s been under attack due to turning the US into a security state.

      And no. We don’t want a war with Iran for Israel’s sake.

  9. Surprise, surprise for Mr President. He will have dinner with the current Miss Israel who just happens to be–you’ll never guess–Ethiopian! The current “Queen of Sheba” will be sure to convince Mr President that Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy and beacon of tolerance. Here is some information from an article:
    “Obama’s staff personally invited the newly crowned Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw – who is the first black Israeli to the hold the title – to a dinner at the home of President Shimon Peres next Thursday, a symbolic nod, perhaps, to the country’s 120,000 Ethiopian Jews, a community that has long faced discrimination in Israel.
    Ms. Aynaw, who was crowned last month and will represent Israel at this year’s Miss Earth pageant, has already dazzled the Israeli press with the narrative of her hardscrabble childhood and rags-to-riches rise to beauty-queen stardom – and is now making the rounds in international outlets as well.
    “Ten years ago I was walking around barefoot in Ethiopia,” she told Israeli news site Ynet News yesterday. “I never imagined that one day I would be in the land of Israel, meeting the Israeli president and the president of the United States. I could never have imagined such a powerful and exciting situation.”

  10. Bravo! Oh, and Muslim countries are extremely tolerant of other faiths and ethnicities. Just look at how heterogeneous Jordan is. Not Jordan? Saudi Arabia? Not Saudi? Qatar? Yemen?

  11. Ha’aretz, Feb. 26/13

    “As Lincoln abolished slavery, Israel must abolish occupation”
    By Bradley Burston


    “Occupation is Slavery”

    “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.”

    “The day we went to see ‘Lincoln,’ headlines spoke of 15 Jewish youths nearly killing an Arab Israeli in Jaffa, bloodying his head and one eye with bottles and glass shards, sending him to hospital in serious condition. The victim was attacked as he re-filled his vehicle with water, in order to continue to clean their streets. His wife quoted the attackers as saying as they beat him, that Arabs were ‘trying to take over the country.’ “

  12. Re: “Jews of Ethiopian descent given contraceptives either against their will”.

    While other points in this post are strong and true, this one is a matter of sensationalist journalism. To cut a long story short, while it is possible that some gyno at some time might not have given patients the absolute full list of potential side effects of Depo shots, that doesn’t mount into anything systemic and definitely not a matter of coercion.

    As per Israeli rabbis questioning the “Jewishness” of Ethiopian Jews, those rabbis would be for the most part Ethiopians themselves. While I’m not expert on the matter, apparently it’s a matter of dispute between two Ethiopian groups (Betha Israel and Falashmura).

  13. Well ,I can’t see why we can’t think about the points and start the political rant right from the start but there are a few points to note:

    First, to all of you bleeding hearts: With all of the problems we have here in Israel, the Arab population – including the Palestinians – have it much muc better than in some Arab countries. We do have out share of problems, but I dare you to live in say…Saudi Arabia and speak out. Lets see what will ensue.

    Second: While the US help Israel in its wars, 1992 and 2003 are ALL YOURS. in 1992 US forces came to rescue Kuwait from Iraq (yes: Arab Vs Arab) and somehow Iraq staryed shooting at Israel. 2003 was part of the “global war on terror or some such”. Well, what it did is getting rid of Iran’s worst enemy (yet another problem shared by most of the ARAB world) but say what you may, Israel was not involved and I’ll bet the families of all those that were found in the mass graves sure wont miss mr. Hussein.

    Yes Yuval, we do have racism over here. Not unlike any other country. But I am glad to report that the demonstrations against the “Africans” were made by people that in the most part live in the same neigborhoods as our “guests” and suffer from all the problems that a large poor population will bring. Unfortunately, some politicians used it for political gain. And what do you know – at the last elections “Power to Israel”, a right wing nationalist group made of two parties which were in the Kneset – was not elected.

    The name “infiltrators” is derived from an old law which has its origins when the only people that came through the border were terrorists (they weren’t called that yet). This should be changed, but as all americans were reminded just a few months ago regarding gun laws, this things take time.

    Airport security: After 9/11 the US and worldwide airport securuty became just as paranoyd as our own. That said, there are great many security officers that will search your bags with care and a smile. There are also many that won’t. This is not because you are part muslim – it is just rude and unprofessional. In any case, the US does not pay any salaries here. The aide does not work like that.

    I also will be quite surprised if a soldier searched you in Ben – Gurion.

    A final word:
    I didn’t expect this text to be a study in local politics and should be taken – in my opinion – as a good and fun to read political critique.
    Yuval: We have our share of problems and people on the “other side” of them might see them quite differently than we do.

  14. This is so true and well written with brilliant scarcasm! Palistinians but especially ALL arabs have NEVER been known to be violent on airplanes, in airports, or to commit crimes against americans, jews, or israelis. Why should they be searched? They are just good little lambs looking for their very own country from which to launch a full scale jihad or intafada.

  15. A number of unfortunate truths here, but equally a number of unfortunate misnomers. Your conflation of the African Immigrant issue with that of the structural/religious/economic/social difficulties related to the integration of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish population totally washes over the complexity of issues of integration. You portray it as if the Israeli government and people regard Ethiopians who arrived with Israel government assistance in the 90s as the same as many Eritreans/Sudanese that have arrived in the past few years fleeing persecution in their native lends but mostly not entering legally, and by inference that all Israelis equally hostile to Africans living in Israel. This is quite profoundly and demonstrably untrue. Ethiopians in Israel participate fully in Israeli society and are absolutely equal citizens in law and practice – but they are not well enough represented in the professions, politics and have struggled to advance economically. This is a structural rather than legal problem of minority groups and their societal advancement in Israel but it occurs in all countries. But, that Miss Israel 2013, for example, is a beautiful Ethiopian Jewish woman who moved to Israel when she was 12, served in the army and is immensely proud to be Israeli and Ethiopian, coupled with the fact that Ethiopian music and culture is incredibly popular in Israel are just two of the examples of why this portrayal does not do the justice to the reality of the situation (though that is not to say that there aren’t problems that need to be dealt with responsibly and more should be done to improve their economic and social status). Many of the points you raise are based on the extreme elements of Israeli society but taken to infer representation of the majority. To take Beitar Jerusalem fans, for example, as representative of Israelis at large in their attitudes toward Muslims (Beitar fans are mostly a virulent group of thugs and racists) is to consider the UK’s skinhead football ‘firms’ (who thankfully have been banned from stadiums here) as reflective of the rest of the country’s views on, say, eastern european immigrants. That surely does not give a fair hearing to the reality, and it totally ignores the fact that Netanyahu (who I am not a fan of) called Beitar fans shameful last month, the Mayor of Jerusalem called them ‘simply criminals and mafiosi,’ and the club is regularly fined by the authorities for not controlling its fans – as happens here and in Europe – and the majority of Israelis consider them the scum that they are. If this article does anything, it cheaply simplifies complex sociological and political issues for a cheap dig at Israel, and says almost nothing of the things that Obama can actually do on his visit, at a time when a progressive American voice on the Middle East is needed most.

  16. Great! except for the part where you mention Michelle Obama. I didn’t understand why you did that, but it didn’t feel right.

  17. Excellent. He needs this message. Not sure when any Americans will ever understand the injustices being perpetrated against Palestinians and anyone who is not one of them. Israel is a racist, exclusionist, Apartheid state and really should not be allowed to exist as long as it is that!

  18. I heard today in the news that Obama compared the state of Israel to the colonisation of the american continent by the white men, back then. I guess he thinks it was a proper thing to do, the massacre of the natives. It seems there is no hope for justice

  19. Comedy crosses all racial, ethnic and religious boundaries.
    It also can break down barriers. Zahr is one of the best. Seeing the humor in a situation, he slips in truths in a not so subtle way that makes one realize what is going on and become aware of the tragedy of these situations, while still getting a chuckle.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Obama could have read this on the flight en route to the Middle East!

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