Tel Aviv Airport...
The trouble started when I presented my passport to the Israeli Ben-Gurion Border Control. Since my only previous foreign travel experience had been in Central and South America, I had taken the liberty of procuring travel visas to enter adjacent Middle Eastern countries as I had done before when planning the negotiation of Latin locales. The border control officer was this dark haired matron (for some reason, women make the most intimidating customs personnel).
She listlessly picked up my passport and began browsing first former travel habits and then the newer visas. 'Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,' read one stamp. 'Embassy of the Syrian Republic,' read a second. The officer looked up with a glare that suggested I'd just dumped her to run away with her roommate.
'The Syrians are our enemies!' she declared. I was clueless. Hadn't they sent troops to support Desert Storm in subduing Israel's old nemesis Iraq?
'I want to know every place you have stayed in Israel since your arrival,' she barked.
'Well, the first night I stayed at a youth hostel in Haifa...here's the receipt they gave me,' I replied.
'How did you know about this hostel?' she asked.
'The tour guide told me,' I said, beginning to mix up in my mind hostel with hostile.
'Who is this guide? I want his name!' she said.
'He doesn’t have a name...'
'Then you will give me a description...'
'I’m talking about the tour guide of Israel from the Wausau Public Library that I photocopied pages out of before I left for my trip,' I said.
'You will come with me,' she said. I was obviously too clever of a terrorist for her level of expertise.
I was taken to a waiting area in the back and turned over to another female officer. She was younger and prettier, but twice as vicious.
'You will tell me every place you have traveled in Israel since your arrival,' she said as she began taking apart my luggage piece by piece, examining even my dirty socks as if potentially lethal weapons, (which perhaps they were).
I managed some sort of reply about sightseeing I'd done, but was soon interrupted.
'You have been in Israel for a week, yet you have only one small bag. I find this unusual, don't you? Where is your other luggage?' she asked.
'I don't have any. I travel light. Check it out--there's two changes of clothes there,' I said.
'To me that still is not enough,' she said with an air of impatience.
'I washed my dirty clothes by hand in the hotel I was staying in,' I said.
'Why did you take this radio along with you?' she asked.
I was unnerved by the question. Indeed, I hadn't been so unnerved since I was
hand-frisked by a pistol toting PM at the Bogota International Airport while a soldier stood by cautiously training a submachine gun on me.
It was a radio cassette player I'd picked up in Guatemala City during the Persian Gulf War for the sole reason that it also had short-wave feature on it so I could access the Voice of America during Desert Storm. I had taken it along to record a little local music but now realized I was attempting to leave Israel with a short-wave radio in my possession.
Fortunately the 'SW' label on the short-wave switch was too worn to be read.
'To listen to music and catch the weather,' I answered.
'Why did you bring such a big radio? Why didn't you bring a Walkman?' she
I was getting the impression I was leaving the Iron Curtain rather than the Holy Land.
'Because I don't have a Walkman!' I shouted. This seemed to have the effect of swaying her to the notion that perhaps I was nothing more than a disgruntled tourist.
'It will be necessary to dismantle your radio,' she informed me and directed a
second officer, who was unraveling all of my carefully wrapped souvenirs, to take the radio to the shop to open it up as well.
I was taken to a small cubicle and hand searched by a male attendant who
apologized for having to do it. Then I was returned to my nightmare.
'Will I get my radio back?' I asked.
'What makes you think you wouldn't get your radio back?' she replied. I didn't
bother to ask her if she'd ever been in a third world country.
'You are free to go--an attendant will escort you to your flight shortly,' she said.
I was handed a ball-point pen with the Ben Gurion Border Control insignia
emblazoned on it and a little card that read:
Israel Airports Authority
We apologize for any inconvenience that may have been caused to you during the
procedure. We wish you a pleasant flight and hope to welcome you to Israel again.
With Best Regards,
Ben-Gurion International airport
Office of the Airport Director
On the plane I noticed a well dressed businesswoman occupying the seat in front of me and writing a note with the exact same pen as mine. One could only imagine what her Border Control experience had been like. Funny, she didn't look the terrorist type.