Monday, April 09, 2007

Bordering On The Paranoid

"Good morning. Could I see your passport please, sir," said the guard at the entrance to the Israeli border post. I handed it over and she started flicking through it. "I see you've been to Iran," flick, flick, flick, "...and Pakistan," flick, flick, "...and Syria," flick, flick, "...and Lebanon," flick, "...and Yemen?” She lifted her eyes from the passport and looked at me as if I was slightly demented. “And what were you doing in Iran?"
"OK Mr. Erik, if you could step this way please..."

And so started my longest border crossing to date. A team of six security guards went through my belongings with a fine tooth comb, entirely emptying out my bags and passing each item through the X-ray machine – twice – and everything was meticulously swabbed for explosives residues. (Although one benefit to come of this was that I re-discovered my camping cutlery set which thought I had lost somewhere en route.) I myself was given a thorough manual inspection (though luckily not that thorough). Another security officer, who never took off her shades, asked me to give a detailed account of the places I had visited along the way during the course of my trip, although by the time I had reached India (working backwards) the lady interviewing me decided I didn’t need to be so detailed any more.

But the whole process, at just under three hours, was surprisingly shorter than I had expected, especially the interrogation (which I was secretly looking forward to), probably because they realized that no potential terrorist would be as stupid as to visit these hostile countries and not change their passport. And I must say that during the whole process, although the guards weren't joking around with me or anything, they were always perfectly courteous and polite, which is far from being the norm and is something I appreciated greatly.

When I was finally clearing the last hurdle and getting my passport stamped I asked the inspector to stamp an already-used page so as not to use up my last, precious remaining blank pages. So I picked out a spot for her. Upon seeing it she raised her eyebrows. "You mean here?" pointing, "next to the Lebanese stamp?"
"Yes please," I replied.
"OK," she said, "but it'll sure look strange."


Inihtar said...

Haha. . . well, I congratulate you on not going off on them about the inconvenience. I usually have two reactions in these kinds of situation--I either freeze up in fear, or start mouthing off about how stupid the whole thing is. . . and I usually have no idea which way it'll go until I've opened my mouth.

Ex-Shammickite said...

Ages ago I toured Israel in an 10 seater tourist bus, driven by a mad Israeli called Ari Cohen. He was about 75 years old, wore a black Greek fishermans hat everywhere (perhaps he wore it to bed too, we never saw him without it) and had an answer for every question we asked him. But he wouldn't allow any eating in his pristine bus. One day we bought fresh dates on the street, smuggled them into the bus and hid them under the back seat. They started to smell.... and we were terrified that he would find them and give us a good talking to.... luckily we got away with it.
Security in Israel is a fact of life, and a good thing too. It can be a dangerous place, stay safe.