Why the Middle East? And Obligatory Post About Israel Security

Why the Middle East? And Obligatory Post About Israel Security

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted but after writing a 300+ page dissertation and working on another publication, the last way I want to spend my free time is by staring at a computer screen.  Especially when the sun is shining on the side of the Mediterranean and there’s vitamin D to absorb!  But I didn’t come to the Middle East to just get  a tan so it is about time to start sharing my thoughts.

First, where exactly am I going?  I have 3 weeks to spend exploring Cyprus, Jordan and Israel.  Why?  When I saw $367 round trip tickets from JFK to Israel, I decided it would be the perfect PhD graduation gift to myself, especially since I have a friend to visit in Tel Aviv.  But that’s not the only reason either.  I think it’s impossible not to be intrigued by Israel.  The land where three major religions are rooted.  An artificial country created sixty years ago and an attempt to provide a home for mis-matched Jews from everywhere.  A hotly contested area to this day.  The homeland of many people I’ve met along my journeys, who travel after finishing their time in the army.  A land unified by religion but according to Thomas Friedman, it’s a land where Jews can be themselves without worrying about obeying Jewish stereotypes abroad.  So they drink, wear jeans at weddings and be on a first name basis with everyone.  I love diverse nations and have always found Israelis incredibly laid back and open minded.  But I am also completely oblivious when it comes to politics and wanted to learn more about the current political situation without watching the news.  And I want to see Petra (preferably without breaking a bone or the onset of a debilitating disease which is what happened when I tried to visit similarly epic sites).  Based on my experiences in Egypt, I am not sure how much I will like traveling around the Middle East but it’ll be different, it’ll be interesting and unfortunately, with the political situation continuing to escalate, I don’t think it makes sense to wait.

“Run from what’s comfortable.  Forget safety.  Live where you fear to live.  Destroy your reputation.  Be notorious.” -Rumi

So anyone who writes about their time in Israel almost always includes a border crossing tale.  Even Paul Theroux, one of my favorite writers, documents his bad moment in Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean.  I entered the area the Middle East through the Tel Aviv airport and I had no problem getting into the country. Border control at the airport asked me why I came (tourism and to see a friend).  That response was enough to get me a stamp on the paper passport insert that they use to keep track of your entry and exit (supposedly many Arabic countries won’t admit you if they see an Israeli stamp… Lebanon Iran, Libya, etc.).  When I told them my friend’s name was Erez, the security officer broke into a huge smile of approval and enthusiastically handed my passport, happy to hear a good Hebrew boy would accompany me on some of my adventures.

Flags outside Israel airport.

Flags outside Israel airport.

I braced myself for an item-by-item inspection of my luggage and could not believe that I could pass through customs without sending my bags through a machine.  There wasn’t even a security guard to see me visit.  “Well, that was easy,” I thought to myself.

While it doesn’t make too much sense to me, it seems getting in is easy part of traveling in Israel.  I was arriving in Israel on a Saturday afternoon, right in the middle of sabbat, when Israeli public transportation doesn’t operate as normal.  I didn’t buy a Jordan Visa in advance so the closest border crossing (King Hussein bridge) wasn’t an option.  After 15 hours on planes, I did not want to deal with an uncertain crossing into Jordan so a week or two I bought flights for 5 days in Cyprus, leaving directly to Jordan.  After a few hours in the Israeli airport waiting for the plane to Cyprus, I was briefly questioned by an airport security who wanted to know why I would fly to Israel, just to fly to Cyprus.  I explained my situation, showed her some documents and then she nodded and left me alone.  “That wasn’t bad,” I thought to myself.

Where I ran into issues was getting out.  The Israeli airport recommends you arrive at least 2.5 hours before departure and luckily, I started the process 3 hours before my flight.  The first part of the process involved investigation.  The security guard flipped through every page of my passport and barraged me with questions, especially about my stamps in Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and Turkey.  “Why did you go?  How long where you there?  Who did you go with? Where did you stay?  Do you have family there?” I half-heartedly listed names wondering what “Deb Perrone” and “Alissa Mrazek” would mean to these people halfway across the world.  My multiple visas from Turkey involved a dozen additional questions, especially when I admitted I dated a guy from there.  “Why did you break up?  When did you last talk to him? Does he know you’re here?”.  Apparently, my responses weren’t entirely satisfactory so they brought in the supervisor for a similar session.  He at least took the time to preface his questioning with “Security in Israel is not like it is in other countries.  Other nations want to destroy us”.  It got to a point where I started to nod and smile, especially he asked whether my ex- was Turkish.  Technically, Orhan was Kurdish and he would proudly make correct people.  I didn’t even go there.  Anyway, once the questioning was over, they affixed a bright yellow sticker with a UPC to my passport case and waived me forward.

Passing through the scanners, I was pleasantly surprised that we could keep our shoes on but had to remove all electronics, including chargers and my small headlamp.  I walked through the scanner without any beeps or red lights, thought I was home free but the process was just beginning.  They went through my toiletries one by one and confiscated my contact solution and conditioner (even though they let me keep my shampoo which was in a similarly sized container… seemed rather arbitrary to me).  I got quizzed on my razor but the woman broke into an approving smile when she realized it was not electronic, just the soap was attached.  They swabbed all of my electronics separately and sent the cotton pads through an analyzer.  Then they turned their attention to me.  I had to remove my shoes and stand in the full body scanner.  Apparently that was not enough and they sent me behind the curtain for a pat down by one woman.  She sent for reinforcements and two more women supervised the pat down.  Eventually, they made me take off my bra and send it through the scanner.  Only that seemed to satisfy them and they let me pass with an ironic apology for the trouble.

Another angle of flags in Israel.

Another angle of flags in Israel.

Then I was free! To pile on the plane with matzoh-crunching Israelis celebrating Passover “across the pond”.  While this ordeal was a bit annoying and illogical, I hear I pass through with more ease than most.  I’ll spend five days on the Island and about five days in Jordan before I’ll encounter Israel security again, on by journey back from Jordan.  Fingers crossed that it will be nothing I can’t handle!

Song of the Moment: Little Wanderer– Death Cab For Cutie

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