“You Leave Only with Passport!” Detained in Tel Aviv Again

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Detained in Tel Aviv Again is part of the #NoCollusion, No Albania for TPOL where I break my 100 country count mark. See the World Map for where I’ve been.


I will start my post by showing you a photo of what I arrived with in Warsaw. You’ll notice that these are not my carry on bags. So what happened?

It all started when I was planning my departuture from the InterContinental David Tel Aviv. I asked the bellman how early I should arrive at the airport for an international flight. I told him my arrival experience (see Detained in Tel Aviv: A Most Unwelcome Welcome) and said that perhaps I should allow more time in case I get stopped again. He said two hours would be sufficient. I ordered my Gett taxi and headed to the airport. Before getting to the ticket counter and before being ripped off by Wizz Air for not having a boarding pass (see Wizz Air Terminal 1 Tel Aviv: Scammed at The Bus Station), I was stopped by a young woman security guard and asked for my passport. This was not at the security checkpoint so I was a bit surprised when I started getting interrogated:

Security: Where are you from?

Me: United States.

Security: What is this last name? 

Me: American.

Security: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

Security: Are these your bags? You know people sometimes ask strangers to take stuff in their bags. 

MeYes, my bags and nobody asked me to take anything. 

She put a sticker on my passport and I went to the ticket counter. After clearing up the ticket issue, I went through a security checkpoint where they checked my passport and boarding pass.  Then I went up the stairs to immigration. At immigration, I scanned my passport, received a ticket with photo, and went to the next security line. I scanned my ticket and was given the go-ahead by the security guard.

From there, I waited in a long line until it was my turn to put my bags in the x-ray queue. Right before my stuff was about to go through, a woman approached me and said, “Remove your stuff and come with me.” Confused, I thought she was saying to take my laptop out of the laptop case. When I tried to do that, she repeated herself and I did as I was told.

The woman walked me to another line where a few other people were also waiting for extra screening. When I arrived, there were no other Arab looking people in the line. Everyone in the line was white, so I didn’t think that I was being profiled or that anything was out of the ordinary. I watched as the people in front of me had their bags opened and searched, their stuff run through the x-ray machine, and then they were sent on their way. When it was my turn, my bags were opened and I was asked to take out my electronics. First, I took out the laptop, then my phones, and then my Jambox. The male agent asked if there was anything else. I said no as he continued to look through my bags. He found an extension cord which seemed to make him upset. I don’t know if he thought it was suspicious to travel with an extension cord or if he thought I was lying to him. He asked if I had any other electronics, and I asked if an electric tootbrush counted. I was not trying to be funny, and he certainly was not amused.

I stood there for awhile as he started rubbing each of my items with his rod. It was very invasive. While he went through the motions, I stood there wondering when he would be done. The climax arrived by way of another young woman who introduced herself as a supervisor. She began to interrogate me.

Security: What kind of last name is this? 

Me: American.

Security: Where are your parents from? 

Me: (caught) Iraq. 

Security: Why are you in Tel Aviv?

Me: To party. 

Security: Did you meet anyone here? 

Me: You mean at the bar or…? 

Security: I mean did you plan before you came here to meet with anyone? 

Me: No.

Security: Did you go to Gaza? 

Me: No. 

Security: Where are you going next? 

Me: Warsaw. 

There were only two flights that night out of Tel Aviv. One was gong to Warsaw and the other was going somehwere else in Europe. For some reason, she was unnerved when I said Warsaw and started to asks more questions.

Security: Oh, Warsaw? Why are you going there? 

Me: Vacation. 

Security: And you are by yourself? 

Me: Yes. 

Security: And after Warsaw, you go back home? 

Me: No, I am going to Macedonia. 

And this is where things go from bad to worse.

Security: And after that, you go back home? 

Me: No, I go to Albania. 

Security: And after that, you go back home? 

Me: No, I am going to Slovenia. 

Security: And after that, you go back home? 

Me: No, I go to Switzerland, then Luxembourg, then Portugal, then home. 

Obviously, I didn’t want to lie, but I’m sure that telling her the weird itinerary of my #NoCollusion tour didn’t earn her trust. She started asking me what I did that I travel like this. I tried to tell her that I’m the world famous travel blogger, TPOL, but this inexplicably didn’t appease her. I tried to tell her that I’m the people’s champ consumer protection lawyer of Bachuwa Law, but she remained unsatisfied. Meanwhile, the prodder kept touching my stuff with his special rod and then running it through the x-ray machine. Thirty minutes later, I finally went through the metal detector. At this point, I noticed that the people behind me were also of Arab descent, and they too were being asked their travel plans in great detail. Meanwhile, I was standing there waiting for the neverending inspection of my stuff to come to an end. It did not.

Instead, I was told to have a seat. I sat, waited, and watched as Arab after Arab was interrogated, sent through the metal detector, then to the secondary – ‘put your hands up’ – screening machine, and then to the seating area. It was a bit funny that none of us dared to look at each other for fear that we may arouse suspicions of collusion. Eventually, the Arab people were given their passports and sent on there way while I sat in the same place.

After some time, another security woman came up to me and asked me the same questions about my last name and what I was doing in Israel. She asked if I went to Gaza, if I knew anyone in the PLO, and on and on. I said no. Then she left. Later on, two men in suits came and stood next to me. One stood immediatley facing me, blocking the entrance to the terminal. Perhaps he thought I was going to make a run to the Priority Pass Lounge. I asked him for the time and he said he didn’t have a watch. Earlier, I saw that he checked his cell phone and asked him to check that. He said no. Realizing that his reaction was a bit cruel, he told me the time. As it was getting closer to my departure time, I asked the prodder if I would miss my flight, to which he replied with the gangster phrase, “We are on it.”

The first security agent came by and as all my stuff was on full display. I told her to take my TPOL business card which was lying in the bin. She smiled and took a card. That moment of light heartedness was quickly overshadowed by the other female security agent who hastily made her way to me demanding to know how long I’ve had my luggage and if anyone else has touched it.

Me: I’ve had these bags for ten years. 

Security: It came back positive. So did your speaker. 

Me: Positive for what? 

Security: I can’t tell you that. Have you had problems traveling with this speaker before? 

Me: Actually, all the time (see The TSA Won’t Jam). Security never knows what it is, but it’s just a weird looking speaker.

Security: You will not be traveling with this bag or your speaker tonight. 

She left again and Mr. Rod (formerly known as “prodder”) came up to me and said it was my time for secondary screening in the Hands Up machine. Usually, when you go into that machine, you line up your feet with the foot prints and put your hands up for a few seconds. This time, Mr. Rod commanded me to stand wide and put my hands up. I did for what felt like an eternity and then looked over to my right wondering if he had forgetten about me. He, along with the angry security lady, scolded me saying,  “Look straight! Keep your hands up!” I began to think that this was a practical joke. Thirty seconds later, I glanced over again and was scolded again. Finally, I was told to sit back down. The two guys in the suits came back in my direction and, for the first time, I began to think that I was going to jail. For a split second, I began to wonder what they detected in my bag and in my speaker. I tried to recall the lessons I wrote about in my TPG article about being Locked Up Abroad (see What to Do When Locked Up Abroad). Remembering that I am not a terrorist, I went back to my careless attitude. My lack of seriousness irritated the security agent who reprimanded me for not sitting up in my chair.

The situation grew stranger as the Mr. Rod said that I would be allowed to leave but that I could not take any of my stuff. I asked him for an explanation, and he ignored me. I began to wonder how I would catch my flight. I reminded Mr. Rod about it, and he told me that he still had to scan my stuff before I could go. Again, he put each piece of my belongings through the x-ray machine and used his rod to quadruple check what he must have thought was explosive underwear. Simultaneously, he began assembling boxes and putting the items into the boxes after they were scanned. Unlike TSA which throws your stuff around, Mr. Rod went to great lengths to pack everything nicely and even used bubblewrap for my electronics. He told me that all my stuff would “fly in the belly” and that I would not be allowed to bring anything on the plane. I asked if I could have my phone. He said no. I asked if I could have my wallet. He said no. I asked if I could have a credit card. He asked the security agent. She said I could have just one. I chose Charles Schwab.

In total, he packed three blue boxes. He then started packing a fourth box, a red one. He told me that the contents of the red box would arrive the day after along with my actual luggage. He asked me to verify the contents of the red box which included my Jambox, my Jambox charger, my laptop charger, and my toothbrush charger. Apparently, I was correct that my toothrbrush was an electronic device. I asked if I could have my laptop charger so I could do my work. He asked the security agent. She said no. Mr. Rod requested that I write down the name of my hotel and said that the airline would contact me when my stuff arrived.

With everything taken away from me besides my passport, Schwab card, and my remaining dignity, I was escorted to the gate. As I was walking there with Mr. Rod, I asked him what the machine detected on my computer. He said he could not say. I asked him if this process was normal. He said no but that it does happen. At the gate, I told him that this would make for a great blog post. He agreed saying that I would never forget this experience.

That was the only thing he got right that day.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds similar to my experience with israeli immigration (being an american of middle-eastern descent). Was stuck at the airport for 8 hours answering their pointless questions. You would think they would’ve met more americans who weren’t born in USA by now, or would’ve met more world-travellers by now.

    Not only is their pure bigotry in profiling people annoying, but also their sheer ignorance at what people from around the world can be like. Just because you don’t fit the typical white american box doesn’t mean you need to be detained for hours and screw up your travel plans.

    • Precisely! Mindless, stupid questions memorized off of a script. And they think they’re experts in evaluating who is a threat. Clearly not.

  2. LOL, very funny blog entry, indeed.

    I find the security methods employed here to belong to the 1970s. If they really thought that you belong to some kind of freedom fighters’ organization, they would have jailed you. This is just unnecessary inconvenience and ethnic profiling of the highest degree. 99% of their info is based on intelligence and where there isn’t any to justify all this, it’s just a waste of time. But in part it was your fault for telling them that your last name is American. C’mon now, your last name is as Chaldean as it can be. You should have been candor with them to avoid all this delay and maybe you could have enjoyed the airport lounge! 🙂

    I never say never, but for me personally I’d never visit Israel unless there’s peace, one or 2-state solution really doesn’t matter, only a just peace where all are equal under the law!

  3. “…he started rubbing each of my items with his rod. It was very invasive. While he went through the motions, I stood there wondering when he would be done. The climax arrived by way of another young woman…”

    So, basically, you were treated to a threesome by Israeli border patrol…

  4. I wish I could compare to a visit to a Muslim country. But I’m Jewish and not even welcome in places like Lebanon, Iraq, etc. What you experienced was the result of the fact that almost all people who kill Israelis in non-domestic disputes, are of Arab descent.

    • I’m Jewish and gay, and I’ve been to many Muslim countries—including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, UAE, and Indonesia. I’ve also been to Israel several times. I’ve driven from Israel to Jordan and back again. I’ve never been treated poorly in any of those countries, though I did get questioned most at airport security in Tel Aviv after returning by road from Jordan (seeing Petra).

      Jews profiling Arabs is just as bad as Arabs profiling Jews. Profiling may be an important tool in that region for more security, but it easily can descend into an excuse to just irritate, exploit, and hurt people. This instance sounds far more like an intentional excuse to exploit and irritate someone with an Arabic name than any reasonable had genuine interest in trying to provide for better security. I’m almost certain when they can’t tell you what a positive test was for and one has to take their prejudiced word for it.

      Israel is a democracy, but it sometimes behaves as if citizens and forieign visitors have no rights. That is a problem. In this case, Israeli security misbehaved and deserves the criticism.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experiences in getting in and out of Israel. It was never a place that I was ever interested in visiting but now it will definitely stay that way for me. I guess living on the West Coast all my life and not having many Jewish acquaintances, Israel was not a travel destination that came up that often. And because of the US support of Israel I guess I just accepted all the notions about how they are doing everything right to protect themselves.

    But last year I went on a tour that spent 11 days Jordan….because I wanted to see Petra. That was the first time I had ever been to a Middle Eastern country so I was a little apprehensive. But it was fine. Going through immigration was quick and easy.

    Petra was unbelievable and definitely worth going to in person. Other places in Jordan were nice but after a while it got tired seeing and hearing about Roman ruins. But I never felt unsafe while I was there. It was good to hear the perspective…mostly from the people such as the tour guide and people along the trip.

    But my trip home was just as educational. I sat next to a woman from a church group from Colorado that was visited Israel then went to Jordan. She told me her observations of the conditions in Israel and how the people there were treated or mistreated. More surprising was that she said that it was when they were at the border LEAVING Israel for Jordan by BUS that she said how much questions they got. They could not understand why anyone would leave Israel for Jordan.

    That is Unbelievable! But understandable. In the mid-1980s lived in Taiwan for school while it was under marital law. I saw the limited access to news and the censorship of news that was unfavorable to the government. I also saw textbooks and the propaganda films they had on China and the conditions there. When people grow up hearing nothing but that it is understandable why they believe and think a certain way. Most of the people I met there had not been to China but I had. I knew it was pointless to try and change their minds about what they hear their whole life.

    But things change….and when martial law finally ended…things got better. People could actually change when they have the freedom to process information and start thinking again.

    Unfortunately, the mindset in Israel for a fair amount of people there is not a good one.

  6. A little paranoia is understandable, but this seems way over the top. From there, things descend into racism and bigotry. I presume that you have Global Entry. If so, that should have settled them down some, given the required background check. I’m not a huge fan of how Israel treats non-Jews, and this just illustrates my concerns. If Israel will do this to a US citizen, then how badly will they treat other nationalities?

    • Yes to global entry and I don’t care to get into their politics. I understand when I travel, I’m in someone else’s country and it’s their rules, but some sensibility is in order.

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