TWENTY-FOURTH MOVEMENT: ISRAEL
Tel Aviv, Israel
I woke up at 09:40 today, showered, dressed, packed my bags, and checked out of the hotel I then sat down in the hotel lobby and typed out some more journal entries (since I had plenty of time before my Israel-bound flight). I typed away until 13:40, finally finishing an entry I had been putting off for some time (January 26, 2015 – I had a lot to write for that day). Then, I put my laptop away, grabbed my bags, and walked outside of the hotel; I was planning on spending the next hour walking to the airport; however, gale-force winds and rain made me reconsider my plan of action. I walked as far as the nearest convenience store (not far at all) and then went inside and asked the store clerk to call a taxi for me; while waiting for the taxi, I had a small iced coffee. The taxi then arrived, I got in, and I was driven to the airport. Once at the airport, I paid the taxi off and then entered inside. It was now 14:20 and the check-in counter would not open until 15:00; so, I filled my time with reading.
Now, my ordeal begins:
Promptly at 15:00, I walked to the check-in counter, which was entirely roped off; finally someone let me in and I was brought in front of a metal stand (there were five of them lined up); I was then interrogated about where I had been, my purpose of visiting Israel, my employment history, etc. After a number of questions, the interrogator’s manager was called over and he escorted me and my bags to a private room. Once inside this room, I surrendered all possessions to be searched. I figured the Israeli authorities probably have a threat assessment matrix and I must have ticked off three indicators: signs of a lot recent travel in the region, having been to Lebanon, and having a beard. With these signs, they probably thought I was a threat to their security, which was quite funny to me. So, all my bags and I was searched very thoroughly (everything short of a body cavity search, though I did have to pull my trousers down and every inch of my body was patted down and the even searched my beard and hair). After spending an hour going through each item in my bag (each card, receipt, stick of gum, etc.) and even demonstrating that I knew how to turn on my laptop and use it, they confiscated my laptop, two cameras, two power chargers, the external flash for my DSL camera, and my external hard drive; these seven items were then bubble wrapped and placed in a cardboard box to be shipped separately. I then repacked all the remaining items in my bags (I hadn’t realized how much crap I’ve accumulated on this journey). I will say, that the Israeli authorities in Cyprus were very thorough and the manager explained the process to me and was kind, respectful, and even had a sense of humor – all desirable personality traits that his counterparts in Tel Aviv were terribly lacking (more on that later). I also had to pay seventy USD on top of my airplane ticket to ship my checked luggage – what a fool I was to go with El Al airlines with their low fares and high hidden costs. After paying the additional cost, repacking everything, and receiving my passport and boarding pass, I was escorted to the gate and I was told that I would require an escort at all times. I later had to follow one escort so she could pass me off to another, freeing her to some other work; this other escort then took me back to the gate and I was told to stay there until I boarded the plane – so much for eating anything today; fuck me right?
So, I waited at the gate, concerned that the weather outside (extreme winds) would delay or possibly cancel the flight. Finally, the other passengers and I boarded the Boeing 737-800 and we were slightly delayed, but took off at 18:10. During the hour-long flight, we received information on purchasing duty free items and a cup of water; although I turned down the water. The plane then landed at Tel Aviv and I walked straight to passport control; I got in line, waited, and the walked up to the counter. The woman at passport control asked the typical questions, looked through my passport, and then saw that I had been to Lebanon (red flag!); she then sent me to a waiting area where other rejects of Israel had been sent (i.e. Arabs). I was then asked in to a private office and seated in front of the interrogator, a tall and slightly heavyset fellow.
[People given too much power and authority over others usually act like dicks; this man was no different than the rest; perhaps with age, he will mature.]
First, the interrogator asked me if I knew why I was there. I replied that it was because I had traveled to Lebanon; he tried to play it off that that wasn’t the reason and that there was another, as if he knew some secret about me, but, as the hours ticked by, it became obvious that Lebanon was the only reason why I was here and why I had been extensively searched in Cyprus. He then asked what my purpose was here in Israel; I told him it was tourism. He asked if I was sure it wasn’t terrorism. I then assured him it was tourism and he replied that there was a thin line between the two (huh?). I, finding the whole situation amusing (me, a threat? hahaha), kept chuckling throughout the interrogation (for instance, when he asked if I had traveled to North Korea or if I planned on visiting Iran – as if Americans would be welcome in either of those countries) and he kept reminding me that this was no joke; I told him that life is a joke, but he didn’t believe me – this man had no sense of humor and no idea how to treat strangers like human beings. The interrogator then had me fill out a piece of paper that asked for my home phone number, mobile number, email addresses, and names of my father and grandfather. When I told him that I didn’t have a mobile phone number on account of cancelling my phone service prior to starting my trip in May, he lied to me and said I needed an active phone with me to enter in to Israel; he then had me write down my cancelled phone number (which was probably already given to another wireless customer by now) . . . as if that would be any use. He then asked if I had purchased a SIM card in any countries during my travels; next, he asked if I had a SIM card in my phone right now; I answered “no” like a fool; due to the exhausted state I was in, my mind was working on a basic level and I was thinking “no SIM card equals no phone service” and “no phone service equals no SIM card;” maybe if I was permitted to eat something in Cyprus, I wouldn’t have been so mentally drained; sure enough, after I took the protective cover off of my iPhone, he pulled the SIM card that had been in the phone since I purchased it; I then had to explain my tired reasoning to him, something he probably wouldn’t nor be willing to ever understand. He then went through my entire list of contacts on my iPhone and checked to see if there were any Israeli or Lebanese numbers saved in there (so much for privacy in this country). The interrogator then asked my history, how I was financing my travels, if I had any contacts in Lebanon or Israel, and every country I had visited along the way (each Muslim country I had been to required him to ask further questions – where exactly I had visited, what I did there, if I had any contacts, etc.) – one thing we did agree on was that Bangladesh was a trashy, disgusting country. After some additional questioning (he even asked if I was Christian – not sure if the authorities in the United States could get away with that one . . .), I was sent back to the waiting area. Later on, he came back and asked if I had any pictures to prove my story; I said yes, but on my laptop. He then walked away, but came back soon to escort me to the baggage claim area; I then grabbed my bag and sealed box of electronics; we walked back to the waiting area and I was told to tell him when I was ready to show him my photographic evidence. I then slit the box open (it was covered in tape, so I used the little serrated knife on my Wine Key (or “Waiter’s Friend”) that I purchased in Cambodia) and pulled my stuff out; I then packed everything in to my book bag except my laptop, turned it on, and opened the folders with my pictures saved in them; I then walked to his office, let him know I was ready, and then waited for him to finish questioning another undesirable traveler. When he was ready, we walked to an area away from everyone else and I showed him the pictures of me in the places I had told him I visited; he was then interested in viewing all the photos I took in Lebanon to see if I had any jihady photos, but, alas, all he saw were photos of buildings, artifacts, the ski resort, and many bottles of wine (I drank a lot whilst in Lebanon). Then, he walked back to his office, I put my laptop away, waited for some time, and then was called back inside the office. I then had to pull my SIM card out one more time so he and his accomplice could write down the SIM card number to try and illegally investigate my call history and perhaps monitor it to see if I call any known terrorists while in Israel. I was then sent back to the waiting area and sat there for some time before a lady came up and handed me my passport with an approved Visa slip tucked within the pages. I received no apologies, no “hope you understand,” nothing for the three hours I was detained and questioned – the authorities here aren’t very personable.
The whole time I was questioned in Israel, I was treated like a criminal (this didn’t happen in Cyprus, they treated me well there). Talk about guilty until proven innocent; I’m curious to know if the Israeli Judicial System acts the same way. I also find it humorous that Israel has become such a militant police nation and tightly controlled due to fear (like some other regimes in history . . .); of course the fear is justified, though the methods are not. As for the interrogator, I guess he needs to act like a dick and treat people like shit in order to sharpen his questions and methods for actual, real threats. So, for those few who actually read this and plan on visiting Israel, take note: if you visit Lebanon and then Israel, prepare to have everything in your possession searched, asked many intrusive questions, and to be figuratively dragged through a ton of bullshit. As for the lesson to be learned here, I’m not sure what it is; either don’t go to Lebanon if you are planning on visiting Israel or just don’t go to Israel (maybe in two weeks I’ll know what it is).
Once passing through Immigration, I walked through Customs, and then grabbed some shekels from an ATM. I then walked to the train station at the airport, bought my ticket, and then took the 22:35 train north to Haifa. The train journey was about eighty minutes long and I arrived at Haifa just before midnight. I then walked out of the station and to the bus stand for the bus to Nazareth . . . which of course was no longer running – if I hadn’t been put through all that shit at the airport, I would have been here in time to take the bus. I then walked around Haifa trying to find a place to stay for the night . . .