Israeli-Canadian activist Smadar Carmon found her efforts to seek help from the security-conscious Israeli consulate in Toronto were met with hostility when those there realized she had previously taken part in an action there in support of Gaza and the Palestinians.
I needed a notary's signature, and the cheapest way to do it was to go to my consulate here in Toronto -- yes, the Israeli consulate. When I called for information, the message said that notary services are available on Tuesdays. The following Tuesday morning I was there, bright and early, only to find out from the guard, who gave me a dirty look for not knowing, that it was a holiday, Israeli Independence Day. The Tuesday after that I arrived to discover that I should have come earlier to join the line downstairs in the corridor which was quite long already, far exceeding the 40 people they would let in. However I did get to speak to a voice over the intercom; the voice corrected the information I'd been given and said that the services I sought were available daily.
So on Friday, May 20, I got up very early after staying nervously awake most of the night. At 8:45 a.m. I joined the queue. Of course, there were no chairs whatsoever. After standing for a while I learned that there was actually a list that I should have put my name on. Just after 9:30 a.m. a security person in a suit arrived and asked each of us what the purpose of our visit was. One lady had neither an Israeli passport nor did she speak Hebrew. These infractions immediately made her suspect; the suit asked her extra questions including where her parents were from. Everyone listened very attentively, and we heaved a collective sigh of relief upon hearing her parents were from "a right place," Then the suit said he would return to give us a number, and that all our bags and electronics must be left behind. If we didn't have a car to leave them in we had to use the services of a nearby variety store. This cost me $2 (great idea for an entrepreneur).
I haven't been in the Israeli consulate for over two years. Last time I visited, it was possible to just go upstairs. I guess since that visit, during which there was a slight breach of security, many things have changed!
Once we had our numbers there was still a long wait because the suit took only a few people at a time. Finally, I entered the elevator, rising to the most guarded of places in Toronto, the Israeli consulate. One by one we stepped up to the suit, showed him our papers, took off our coats, emptied our pockets, and submitted to the metal detector. While I waited for my turn, an RCMP officer came in; it seemed like he recognised me and my heart sank.
My turn came; the suit looked at my passport and asked me to state my name. The minute I said my name, everything changed. I swear that the guard even turned a little pale. He quickly told me that he had to check something, and disappeared behind the door into the consulate. I felt my ego inflating out of control! I was a threat to the Israeli security, one of the most notorious in the world!
When he returned, he asked for my name yet again. He proceeded to go through all my things, sending them and me through the metal detector. Then he told me that he knows who I am and he cannot let me in. However, he politely said, the staff will try and help me in whatever way they can. He also asked me if any of the women who were with me the last time were there as well. In response to my question about why he bothered to put me through the security check if he wasn't going to let me in, he politely said that he wanted to make sure I was not armed (darn, I forgot my Uzi at home again ...).
During the Gaza massacre, I was with a group of women who took over the consulate for a few hours while singing peace songs. For the Israeli security guards this was a big slap in the face: a country that prides itself on being one of the security leaders of the world was fooled by a group of women. Initially they tried to forcibly throw us out, but luckily for us the RCMP reminded them that we are in Canada, a country where laws are respected. The poor security guards had to suffer through a couple of hours before the police came and arrested us. They never pressed charges.
To finish the story, the suit finally returned with my document. He (again politely) told me that I should come back at 12:30 p.m. if I wanted their services.
Needless to say, I have no intention of going back. Although I still have citizenship with one of the world's most oppressive countries, at least I no longer live there. For Palestinians who have been living there for centuries and don't have the possibility of leaving, this kind of experience and much worse happens on a daily basis. During the Gaza massacre, I used my privileged status as a Jewish-Israeli white woman to join the women's protest against Israel by taking over the consulate; Palestinians don't have this privilege.
It is very interesting that the consulate staff is in such a heightened state of paranoia that they feel threatened by someone like me. This paranoia affects not only the feared people (me), but also others who waited with me; they too were treated as subhuman. At least I had had my chance to confront the occupation and massacre, even if it was only for a couple of hours.
Smadar Carmon was born on Kibbutz Kfar Menachemand and came to Canada 10 years ago, which is when she became more active as a human rights advocate. She focuses on Palestine-Israel because it is the land of her birth, and because very few Israelis view the situation objectively. She had help in telling her story from her good friend Ellen Shifrin.
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