From the start it was light. The sun came up sometime in the middle of the night, as our jet winged over the Atlantic to Amsterdam.
I saw a little bit of the shore of Ireland, then some of the view across central England, as we aimed for Amsterdam. That was lovely; I have never seen England before. Amsterdam was pleasant as well. I had many hours before my flight to Tel Aviv, so I caught the train in to the downtown area. Lots of long hair! Street musicians! Street theater: there was a man dressed as the Tin Man, every bit of him silver. Even his face and hair were painted silver. It all reminded me of Madison WI from a few decades back. Except there were many more women wearing the Muslim headscarves.
It was as we were waiting to board the plane to Tel Aviv that tensions began to rise. Multiple baggage checks. People asking many questions, wanting to be suspicious of your answers.
Once in Tel Aviv, at the massive Ben Gurion airport, there was one moment when it seemed it might be easy. The first woman to take my passport, looked at it brieftly, then gave it back to me and waved me on, saying, ‘I like your hair.’ ‘Thanks!’ I said.
But then it got got worse. I feared they wouldn’t let me in the country, that they would put me on the next plane back to Amsterdam. And I was so tired, having come such a long way!
WHAT is your purpose of being here? I am a Christian, a pilgrim here to see the sights of the holy city Jerusalem. My interrogator was highly skeptical. WHERE are you staying? I told him about St. George’s Guest House. WHO do you know? I know the Bishop there, I said; I produced the letter of welcome for me that Bishop Riah had sent to me via Fr. Patrick.
I think I might have been stuck, had it not been for that letter.
HOW do you know where you’re going? I printed maps, I said, maps I found on the Internet; but unfortunately I left them behind. WHICH internet sites did you get these maps from? WHAT language were they in? Hostile, hostile. He didn’t want to buy my answers at all. He went off to discuss it all, repeatedly, with the others.
WHO ELSE do you know here? ‘Well, I know of Mordechai Vanunu’, I finally said. And that was the moment we had all been waiting for. He practically shrieked, and jumped up, and went over to his colleagues, and in moments they were all buzzing with each other and on their cell phones, talking to their supervisors.
I stood there, waiting. There were more people to be let in through the gate, their passports examined, their answers to questions duly noted. Everyone else from the plane was let in, except for one other young American.
It was then just the two of us, waiting. Then they asked him some more questions, and after about five minutes they let him go.
Now it was just me, waiting.
The security people reminded me of geese, who only operate as a group, but it takes them a very long time of deliberating to reach consensus. They milled about, and talked and talked and talked, both among themselves and on their cellphones. They came back to ask me more questions. ‘HOW do you know of this man?’
I said I think the world should be free of nuclear weapons, so of course his case had come to my attention.
They led me to a more private room for questioning in back. They X-rayed my
bags again; yet more questions.
Before heading for the taxi area, I stopped at the women’s rest room. When I got out, they were waiting for me. ‘We’re sorry, we made a mistake. We need your passport again, we need to ask you a few more questions.’
The same first, highly hostile fellow. WHY did you bring up this man’s
name? I said, it seemed that’s what you wanted me to do. You kept fishing
and fishing, and weren’t satisfied with anything I said. ARE YOU SURE
you have never met this man before?
More questions about my motives. Finally I looked him straight in the eyes and said, ‘I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ At that he left and talked some more with the others.
And so finally they let me in. About two hours on. One of them, a woman, finally handed me my passport and said, ‘Sorry for the procedure.’
This time I did not linger in the airport to see what other shops or amenities I might find there.