This is the “and Stay Out” part.
Friday morning I left Ramallah for Egypt to see Jonas in Sinai and to give him some of his stuff. I road a bus from Jerusalem to Eilat and was going to cross the border from Eilat, Israel into Taba, Egypt. I gave Jonas a ballpark time of when I would be there, because you never can tell what will happen at these border crossings. The first time I ever crossed the border from Israel to Jordan, I was delayed there for 3 hours because of a bomb scare. That was back in 2001, my first Israeli “security” experience. I was simultaneously scared and intrigued at the same time. “What kind of god-forsaken place is this,” my 25 year-old-self wondered.
So there I was at the Eilat border crossing, wondering how long I would be detained this time. The border policewoman punched my passport number into the computer and I watched her face turn from almost-pleasant to suspicious and hostile. She made phone calls and I waited for the stone-faced security to arrive and tell me “Please come with us.”
“Please come with us,” they told me.
I followed them to the metal detector where they ran both my bags through the x-ray machine and made me walk through the metal detector twice. On the other side of the x-ray machine they began opening one of my bags. My sketchbook with my cartoons and drawings was in this bag. I had debated taking this with me or not, knowing it might cause a problem. But hey, Israel is a country of freedom of speech, right ? I should be able to draw as I please without being a threat to security, right ? So I took it, and now I was watching a bunch of pissed off border police flip through and ask me why do I draw like this ? After they thoroughly searched one bag, they asked me if all of the stuff with me was mine. “Some of it is my friend’s stuff that I am taking to him in Egypt.” The border police looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “But don’t worry; it’s all been with me, at my house, for the last 3 months. I know what all of it is and I can show it to you. He stayed with me, left some of his stuff and now I am taking it to him.”
At that point they took me away from my possessions and put me in the strip search room. I was thoroughly strip-searched and when I was allowed back out, I began to realize something was very wrong. All at once, after being alerted to something, about 8 of the security people all freaked out and ran off somewhere, quite an unsettling thing to see. I asked one who was still me what was going on. He told me not to worry and that everything was ok. “How can you tell me not to worry when 8 of your people just freaked out like that?” I asked. No answer. I waited for a while and then I was given one of my backpacks and my passport. At this point, if I had wanted to, I could have just left the terminal and gone to Egypt. Nothing and nobody was preventing me. But they had the other bag and I wanted to wait for it, of course.
I was made to wait inside the entrance to the Israeli side of the terminal. There were about 8 border police blocking the door. They would not let anyone in or out. I asked one of them about my other bag, he said the police had to come and check it but I could have it back after they checked it.
I waited. Other people crossing from Egypt to Israel were lining up to leave inside. The border police would not let them leave. I saw a police van outside. At first there were maybe 15 people waiting inside. Then 30, then 100. There was a public announcement in Hebrew and English saying there was suspicious package that the police were checking out and that this was the cause of the delay. I heard an explosion. I began to feel uneasy. Then I heard another one.
Neta called me. I told her “Neta, the police have one of my bags. They aren’t letting anyone leave the terminal, there’s a police van parked outside and I just heard two explosions, I’m afraid they exploded my bag. “Don’t worry,” she reassured me, “if they really thought you had a bomb, they would have arrested you by now.” She’s right, I though… I have my passport; I could just leave if I wanted to. No one spoke to me; no one asked me a single question about where I was going or what was in my bag.
After about an hour, a police officer informed me they had exploded my bag.
“YOU WHAT ? YOU DIDN’T ASK ME ANYTHING, I WOULD HAVE OPENED THE BAG AND SHOWED YOU EVERYTHING INSIDE IT, ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS ASK. INSTEAD YOU WASTED THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS OF AMERICAN TAXPAYER MONEY TO EXPLODE MY GODDAMED BAG WITHOUT EVEN ASKING ME WHAT WAS IN IT. YOU RAN IT THROUGH THE X-RAY MACHINE YOU CAN SEE EXACTLY WHAT WAS IN IT”
I was crying at this point. Some of the female border police began laughing at me.
The officer told me I would be reimbursed for the cost of the stuff that had been exploded.
“How do you know how much it was worth??? You EXPLODED It BEFORE YOU EVEN HAD A CHANCE TO LOOK?”
“Don’t worry,” he told me, “Just go to the Eilat police station and they will give you a report and you can get money back.”
Well there was nothing I could do at that point. There was some of mine and some of Jonas’s stuff in that bag. Some of my original artwork too that I was giving him as a gift.
I made a list of everything:
Lens cap for camera
I’m sure they feel like they thwarted a terrorist plot. All they did was waste a lot of people’s time and money. Maybe it was because they didn’t like my cartoons ? I don’t know.