Saturday, July 28, 2007

Israeli Security

Tomorrow morning will once again see me on the 6:12 a.m. train to Chicago, this time as the first leg of my return trip to Israel. That, combined with the fact that I didn't get my visa in advance this year, has me thinking about what may await me trying to enter the country. That has never been a problem for me before, though two friends were detained at the airport for two hours after a winter break trip to Turkey, and journalist friends are stopped almost routinely.

Because I see entering a foreign country as a privilege that country grants you, I don't object to security procedures as such, and certainly Israel has reason to be cautious. For this reason, I also think destination profiling makes some sense. I figure most of the questions security personnel ask you are designed to probe your story, see if you ever contradict yourself, and perhaps see how you respond as part of the psychological profiling. The only questions I've been asked that I think were inappropriate were when I left for my job interview in February, and had to offer my opinions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Second Lebanon War. At the time I just gave brief answers, but those are really the sorts of things a democracy should feel hesitant about having their security forces delve into, whatever the reason.

What potentially irritates me is the degree to which the security folks at Ben Gurion seem unable to peg me. When I flew back to the U.S. in late June, they came up with all sorts of alleged inconsistencies in my story, such sa the fact I claimed to have travelled to the UAE for pleasure when the things I described myself doing didn't sound like typical pleasure activities. (Admittedly it was mixed, as these things can be in my line of work, but I've learned they don't like complex answers and if I'd emphasized the scholarly aspect they would have wanted to see some concrete product.) It also seemed ridiculous to think that a person who had been there for a year would be able to recall and recount all my movements during the past year multiple times in different orders without contradiction.

That said, getting out through Ben Gurion is by reputation much more challenging than getting in, and as far as I can tell a common denominator among those who do get stopped going in is that they have visas from officially listed "enemy countries," such as Syria and Iran. My Arab stamps, on the other hand, are from Bahrain, Jordan, and the UAE. Still, I plan to make sure I have my fellowship documentation readily accessible for passport control.

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