I arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Lod (aka the airport in Tel Aviv) just after 5:00 am for a 7:25 flight. This is about the amount of time I had last time, when security didn’t have enough time to check me and I ended up flying without my luggage and never receiving some of it. So, I got in the first line before baggage check and the Israeli security woman asked, “What was the purpose of your visit to Israel?”
“Look,” I responded, “my bags are going to be checked by the police, so I’m wondering if you can just take me straight to security so my bags don’t get loaded onto the plane and then taken off again.”
She was a little taken aback. I don’t think people do this very often. “Why do you get checked?” she asked, seeming not quite to believe me.
“Because I go to the West Bank.”
“Just a minute,” she said, and walked off to consult her fellow security people. From that moment on, I felt totally in control, and it was great. It took about a minute before someone else came over and asked, “What were you doing in the West Bank?”
I borrowed my reply from Dunya: “My bags are going to be checked and then I’m going to get on the plane to go, and I don’t really have anything to say to you in the meantime.”
When she repeated the question, not unkindly, I said, “I was traveling around and visiting people. I’m not going to say anymore, can you just take me to the police?”
And they did.
They searched me and my bags, checked me into my flight, escorted me through all the lines (because I’m a security threat, you see, I can’t walk through the airport on my own), and everything was finished within 45 minutes! It was great – I really recommend this strategy upon exit for those in the same/similar boat as me.
Perhaps this experience made me a little too bold. Upon entering the U.S., all I wrote in the “countries visited prior to the US” section of the customs form was “Palestine.” I never really noticed before that they actually look at those things. They do.
I have to say it was gratifying for a U.S. customs official to ask, “Did you visit anywhere other than Palestine on your trip?” but other than that, it was a bit of a hassle. I got a big “S” on my form and was taken aside for my bags to be checked. The man was friendly, but a little too chatty about the political situation, Hamas, Fatah, how Palestinians view Americans, and other things that I’m usually happy to share with anyone, but in the current political climate, I wasn’t quite sure about with a US border official.
Unlike the Israeli security, who these days seriously seem to be looking more for explosives than information, this guy was definitely looking for information. He had no interest in my clothing or anything else, only paper materials. He asked me to translate Arabic posters, read every scrap of paper, every page of my notebook.
“When you wrote about Gaza here and you said ‘Jihad very small’ what does that mean?”
“It means that the Islamic Jihad movement has a very small presence in Gaza.”
He was far more intrusive than Israeli security. I said, “Can I ask you why you’re reading every paper? I think that’s unusual for security.” “I’m not security,” he responded. He was the border police.
When he opened the 10 pounds of spices and plants that a friend’s family had given me to take to her, I was a little nervous. I had just told him there were no food products in my bag and of course I had answered “no” on the customs form when they asked about agricultural products. “What’s this?” he asked. “A spice,” I responded. He called the agricultural people over, two very young women. They glanced at the bag and said, “Um, I think this is fine.” And that was that. Nothing was taken from me.
He finished searching my things, handed me my passport, and said, “Welcome home.”
And so, here I am – “home.”