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“Welcome To The State Of Palestine!  Enjoy Your Visit!”
 By Chana Katz

That, says Brooklyn businessman Chaim Yaacov Hendrick, was the greeting he recently received at the Arab checkpoint outside the city of Sh’chem, where he was planning to visit the tomb of Yosef HaTzaddik.

His visit turned into “the most frightening experience of my life” Hendrick later recounted. Waving their rifles at him, his Arab hosts asked him to take off his kippa and follow them to what turned out to be Nablus Police Headquarters for two hours of interrogation, Hendrick said.

“My mouth was as dry as its ever been in my life,” he said. “I knew the only way out is trusting in Hashem and I prayed for Hashem to help me.”

Hendrick’s five hour indoctrination to the fruits of Oslo began when he followed an “old map” given to him by a car rental company in Yerushalayim.

He said he planned to daven at Yosef’s Tomb the week of the patriarch’s yahrtzeit on his way north to the city of Tzfas.

Winding his way through several major Arab villages, Hendrick said he arrived at the outskirts of Sh’chem, where Arab police stopped him, checked his papers and passports, and after about 15 minutes of questioning told him, “Welcome to the State of Palestine.”

Continuing down the road after another 15 minutes, two cars raced up, “sandwiched” him in, pointed a gun at his car and told him to get out, Hendrick said.

“Eight Palestinians dressed in civilian clothes and a big Palestinian with a gun on his hip asked for my papers,” Hendrick continued. “They told me to take off my kippa but didn’t seem to mind when I covered it with my baseball hat.”

After 15 more minutes of interrogation, Hendrick said his hosts told him they’d escort him to the burial site. Instead, he said they took him down a dirt road to a gray building marked “Nablus Police Headquarters.”

“I was now praying to Hashem,” said Hendrick, an Australian who moved to New York last year for business.

Escorted up stairs past “cells smelling of urine,”  Hendrick said he was taken to a room on one of the top floors filled with uniformed and plainclothes Palestinians.

In broken English, Hendrick said they asked him what he did, where he was from, where he was going and who were his friends, “over and over the same questions.”

His captors noticed a cellular phone clip on his waist, went to his car to retrieve his cell phone and asked about the last number he dialed.

He had called his New York office about an hour earlier, but said he deliberately lied to his captors, telling them he had just called his office and told him where he was and what was happening to him.

One of the plainclothes Palestinians made a phone call and summoned the head interrogator to the telephone.

“We will release you,” he was told. “Don’t let your imagination get the better part of you; we just did this for your protection. Welcome to the state of Palestine. Would you like a glass of water?” Hendrick “made a bracha and took a sip.”

Hendrick later reported to Israel Defense Force (IDF) officers things he had seen during his visit including a room in the police building with Palestinians dressed in blue and white camouflage uniforms. Hendrick also told the IDF that as he passed through the Arab village of Ramallah he saw yellow vans with taxi signs delivering Palestinians dressed in army uniform, suggesting a disguise for troop movements.

“I told the Army they should put signs up warning Jews not to drive in the area,” said Hendrick. “They said it wouldn’t be politically acceptable.”

An IDF spokeswoman, confirmed that a “frightened” Hendrick had spent the night at the District Command Office near the Arab village of Jenin, but admitted the IDF’s hands were basically tied.

“If he has complaints he has to speak to the Palestinian Police — not us,” the IDF spokeswoman said. “It’s not the fact that it’s enter at your own risk. It’s not our territory. Basically they can do whatever they want.”

Asked if the state of Israel had an obligation to protect its citizens and tourists, the spokeswoman replied, “It’s Palestinian territory, I can’t really say it’s Israel — whether or not it’s a different state is something determined way beyond the army. They have their own rules, their own police, their own government authorities.”

By the time he left Sh’chem, Hendrick was desperately searching for signs of a Jewish settlement. Following the “red line” on the dated car rental map, though, he said he found himself only in villages with Arabic signs. It was already dusk, but Hendrick said all he saw on either side of him were Arab restaurants and stores and lights from the Arab mosques on distant hills.

“Again I started davening to Hashem,” Hendrick said.

Reaching another Palestinian checkpoint, Hendrick said they again took his passport. Hendrick later told the IDF that while he had been sitting by the side of the road he heard gunfire coming from what sounded like a target range.

“The guard saw me looking and made a phone call and the firing stopped,” Hendrick said.

After an hour, Hendrick said he was released and escorted to a big arch and told, “On this side of the road is Palestine. And on the other side is Area C (joint Israeli and Palestinian control). Go to Area C.”

“I turned right like the guy told me and I found myself in the heart of Jenin,” Hendrick said.

Speeding through the main street of the Arab village that has often made news for local unrest, Hendrick said a car started chasing him. He drove into a gas station and his pursuer followed, blocking him in.

Hendrick said he was thankful that the Arab at the gas station told the pursuer, “Australian...tourist...friendly” and they let him leave.

After “five hours of terror,” Hendrick said he saw “the first sign in Ivrit” some 20 kilometers down the road.

This time he found himself at the guard house of a Jewish settlement.  Hendrick said they told him it was too dangerous to continue driving there at night. He spent the night at the IDF command office outside Jenin.

“I was kidnapped, interrogated, and investigated because I was Jewish,” charged Hendrick. “It was daytime and there was supposed to be peace.  I didn’t think going on a main road my life would be endangered.

“I thought it was only in history that a Jew was taken in and interrogated for being Jewish. I didn’t think this was happening today in the land of Israel.”

Media Shows Little Interest

While Hendrick claims the army told him he was the first foreign tourist to be harassed by Palestinian police, most foreign and even local Israeli media seemed to take little interest in his plight.

“This has been happening quite a bit lately,” one American network correspondent said, “but the fact is that Nablus and Jenin are autonomous Palestinian territory. And if they decide to stop someone for questioning, it’s their complete right.”

But a news staffer at Israeli-based Arutz-7 radio, which aired a lengthy live interview with Hendrick last week, disagreed.

“If the media wasn’t silent about this, I have serious doubts that the government could carry on its policy, the Arutz-7 employee said, speaking on background information. “But the media has sworn itself to silence so as not to hurt the peace process.

“According to Oslo, it’s kidnapping. The Oslo agreement states that we have completely free passage rights in the Palestinian territories.”

The problem, he said, is that relations have deteriorated in recent months between the Arab police force and the IDF, which were supposed to conduct joint patrols and be notified of such incidents.

“They can detain you, but they are supposed to notify joint patrol to escort you out,” he said.

The foreign press, however, appeared to focus on Hendrick’s ignorance of political realities in Israel.

“I don’t think a journalist would wear a kippa if he were driving an Israeli-plated car in the territories,” said the network correspondent.  “It’s like you’re in Manhattan at the wrong time, at the wrong place, on the wrong day, with the wrong skin color. I’ll tell you one thing. When

I take my family somewhere or myself, I know what I’m doing or where I’m going.”

Asked if the media were prematurely making the Palestinian state a reality, the correspondent said, “This is the reality. It’s not getting used to it. It’s putting up with it.”

Another correspondent from a major wire service, said she felt Hendrick should have been more in tune with travel advisories from his country’s embassy.

“Joseph’s tomb is a well-known flashpoint,” she said. “Quite a number of soldiers were killed there in September of 1966. Some of the more radical settlements are centered around the Nablus area. Anyone who comes here and is not aware of it — it seems to me a little incautious.”



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