On Stamps, Questioning and Getting into Israel
It’s taken me months to write all of the posts I intended to write about Israel. This is my last Israel post, but the minute I got to the airport in Berlin and saw how tight security was, I knew I had to at least mention it. Much like Americans, Israelis are terrified of terrorism. Unlike Americans, Israelis’ fear of terrorism is well founded — who could forget the hi-jackings, the Raid on Entebbe, and the Munich Olympics?
- Questioning happens before you get to the check-in counter.
- Every page and stamp in your passport will be scrutinized. I lived in Tunisia and a one page residency visa in my passport. I was asked why I lived there, and who I lived with. I had to say that Dana — my then room-mate— was born in the Emirates and was a British Sudanese national. I was asked where she worked and lived now. I was asked why I went to Turkey and who with — Dana, your name came up again… I was asked why I went to Morocco, Seddik, your name came up there…
- I was asked: —Busby? What kind of name is that? To which I replied that it was from England, and that descendants of British-owned slaves have British last names. That question was followed by a question of what religion my grand-parents practiced. I don’t know what happens if you answer Islam. Maybe one should bring baptismal certificates to the airport? I’m kidding, but barely.
- I was asked where I lived. I was asked where Guinea Bissau was. I was asked what I do. And I was asked to prove what I do for a living. I googled myself to prove what I do. I handed over my I-pad to further prove what I do. The document I showed on my I-pad proved that I had written an article on the UNDP website. I've been told that security sometimes forces people to go into their email too...
- I was asked the same questions 100 ways to Sunday, left alone, then questioned by someone else.
All of these things are normal. And it’s important to stay cool as a cucumber and very patient as you answer. As a black, Catholic, American, female person who works for the UN, I am extremely privileged, and know that it’s easy to say that. But staying calm and trying to view these folks as people who are terrified of letting the “wrong” people into the country, I can’t begrudge them for just doing their jobs. They were quite unpleasant though… As an aside, once you get past security, try to catch a peak of the commandos guarding the plane on the tarmac — Rambo is real, and he’s Israeli.
Once you land, you’ll have to wait in line and you WILL NOT get an Israeli stamp in your passport. In fact, unless you cross at a land crossing, your passport will bear no trace of your stay in Israel. Instead, you’re handed a piece of paper that is your temporary permit. When you exit Israel, you get another paper. Remember, this only works for entries and exits from Ben Gurion. If you enter or exit by land (Allenby Crossing), you'll need to ask your country for a second passport, so that you can travel throughout the Middle East on your "primary passport"...
Finally, it seems getting out of Israel is harder than getting in. Be prepared to answer whether you’ve been to the Occupied Territories, and to tell security all about whom you met. I minimized this process by showing up in quintessentially American girl travel gear: short shorts, and flip flops. I got past the questioning pretty painlessly, but was assigned some kind of scan-able number that suggested I should have all of my belonging unpacked and tested for bomb residue. My hands and feet were tested, too. After that ordeal, during which everyone looked at me like the person who might take down the plane, I was allowed to head to the gate, and eventually board the flight back to Berlin.