A German man has said he was detained for hours at the Israeli border recently and interrogated about his “Palestinian blood,” in the latest report of the Shin Bet security service questioning travelers about their politics at the border.
Nadim Sarrouh, a 34-year-old computer scientist from Berlin, told the Haaretz daily he was detained for five hours and questioned about his family background, political views and social media posts at the Arava border crossing when traveling to Israel from Jordan.
Sarrouh’s account comes amid a rash of reports of questionable border measures made by both Israelis and foreign nationals, who say they were targeted by the Shin Bet for their political views.
Sarrouh said he explained to the Shin Bet interrogator that his father was born in Haifa and that his family was expelled from their homes in the 1948 war and re-settled in Lebanon. His father moved to Berlin in 1968, where Sarrouh was later born. But he said the investigator refused to believe that his family did not consider themselves Palestinian refugees.
“Your blood isn’t German, right? Your blood is Palestinian,” Sarrouh recalled being asked.
“Your blood isn’t German, right? Your blood is Palestinian.” That was the fourth question that an Israeli Shin Bet security service interrogator asked Nadim Sarrouh, a 34-year-old German citizen. https://t.co/DmxGyFXk2o pic.twitter.com/iU81MVs8MU
— The IMEU (@theIMEU) August 24, 2018
He said the investigator asked his opinion regarding happenings in the Gaza Strip, and when he declined to answer, she threatened to deny him entry to Israel.
“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!” the investigator was quoted telling Sarrouh.
Sarrouh said he was briefly released back into a waiting area where his wife and her family were, only to be called back in for a second, “more aggressive” round of questioning.
“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 of you, we know where you went and what you did,” a second interrogator reportedly told him.
Sarrouh said she also questioned him about his political opinions on Gaza, and asked if he had links to Islamists in Syria.
“We can also arrest your wife and your wife’s family and interrogate them,” he said the interrogator told him. “Don’t lie if you want to see your wife again.”
Sarrouh was released after a five-hour questioning.
The Shin Bet denied Sarrouh’s account of his questioning, telling Haaretz the “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 organizations” the agency said, adding that interrogation was carried out in a “practical and professional manner.”
Last week, the Kan public broadcaster reported that the Shin Bet has denied entry into Israel to some 250 people since the beginning of the year over their suspected involvement in terror, espionage, or political subversion.
The issue received prominent attention after Jewish-American journalist and Israeli government critic Peter Beinart said he was questioned on his political views upon arriving in the country for his niece’s bat mitzvah earlier this month.
Beinart, a frequent critic of Israel’s policies, said he was taken for questioning, where an official repeatedly asked him whether he was involved in organizations that could provoke violence, promote anarchy, or threaten Israeli democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Beinart’s detainment, calling it an “administrative mistake,” and a number of left-wing Israeli figures called for an investigation into Israel’s apparent new policy of blacklisting liberal US Jews.
Prominent Iranian-American author Reza Aslan also said he was questioned and threatened by the Shin Bet earlier this month when entering Israel from Jordan with his family.
In a series of Twitter posts, Aslan likened the interrogation to those in “police states” and said he decided to share the experience after Beinart disclosed his own detention.
Aslan claimed interrogators threatened to keep him detained in the country while sending his family away and accused him of hating Israel and denying its right to exist.
The Shin Bet later said in a statement that Aslan’s claims were “unfounded,” and he was held for “brief interrogation” when he “aroused suspicions” of border security agents.
Others who have said they were recently held up at the Israeli border include Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow; Abby Kirschbaum, who works for an Israeli-Palestinian tour company; and the novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
In early July, the Jewish pro-boycott activist Ariel Gold was denied entry into Israel. A law passed last year allows Israel to bar supporters of the BDS movement, which encourages boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.
Last week, Haaretz reported that Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber’s office said it would look into the incidents of Israel-critics being questioned and ask the Shin Bet for clarifications. Zilber’s office was responding to a request to probe the matter from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an NGO.