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Flying El Al

I have had some rough times at various immigration and customs points around the world but one of my worst was a flight with the Israeli airline EL AL. I was invited to present a paper at an inter- national theatre festival in Haifa, Israel. Never having visited Israel before prompted me to accept. I was quite excited and a little nervous. As well as attending the festival, I would have the chance to meet some Israeli and Palestinian friends.

I booked my flight with EL AL, the Israeli airline, to Tel Aviv and pre- pared for my trip. Everything was hunky-dory until I checked in. I was early, as usual, to give me a chance to look through the duty frees and the electronics shops. I never got that chance. To fly EL AL you have to go through a special gate, it was at this point that I was whisked away by an Israeli immigration official. I was still on English soil but I was about to enter a travel nightmare.

Interview one consisted of relative- ly normal questions, such as why I was going to Israel, who I was go- ing to see, had I been before, did I have any ‘substances’ in by luggage and whether was I going to visit the West Bank or Gaza. The official then escorted me to a booth and asked me to wait. He took all my luggage and said that it was going to be checked.

Interview two, with a different EL AL official followed the same pro- cedure, except this time, in addi- tion to my bags, he wanted every- thing I had on me including papers, money, credit cards and my shoes. This official was much more domi-

neering. The questions directed at me were repeated again and again, often in slightly different ways. I was asked to explain myself and why I was going to Israel again and again. I was starting to feel like a criminal. After about thirty min- utes I was left alone in my booth. I peeked over the wall of the booth and saw another official cutting off the soles of my shoes, checking inside and then gluing them back up again. I kept quiet. I wanted out of here and thought acquiescence to be the best policy.

Interview three and I was back with the first official. This time he showed me no mercy. Questions were repeated again and again. By this time I had forgotten what I had said before, luckily it was the truth, as I had to repeat it over and over again. After another thirty minutes of questioning I was asked to take my clothes off; I had to strip down to my underwear. They took these away to the next door cubicle. I caught glimpses of what they were doing when I peeked over the screen. Most of my stuff was in this other cubicle. They proceeded to check, double check, and triple check all my belongings again and again. Cameras taken apart, the lining was peeled away on my clothes, all my papers, credit cards etc were copied, syringes were used to check the contents of my toiletries bag and so on. I was left, in my underpants, in the other cubicle as all this went on.

After about two hours another security official came in to the cubicle and checked my body; under my arms, between my toes, through my hair. At this point I had to take down my pants. I was now

dreading the check up my back- side, strangely this did not happen, just a cursory look! He then left me. I put my pants back on. Ten minutes later another official (how many of these officials do they have working for them?) came in and went through the same proce- dure again, checking my body all over (I didn’t have to take my pants off this time).

My clothes were then returned to me and I was told to put them on. He then escorted me out of the cubicle and sent me through some kind of body scanner, twice! I saw all my belongings being put through x-ray machines repeatedly (at least twice). After the scanner I was sent back to my cubicle. A few minutes later another official ar- rived with a pile of my clothes and my suitcase, I was told to repack them.

The original interviewer came back to me and led me out of the cubicle where he has laid out all my electrical equipment: a mobile phone and charger, an mp3 player, a stills camera and a video camera. I was told that if I wanted to get on the flight I could not take any of these items with me. I tried to argue and even to get an expla- nation. No movement. It was my choice, keep my stuff and stay or lose my stuff and go (I could pick my stuff up on my return to the UK). I was told that I had to make a decision straight away. That was one of the longest minutes of my life. I was well and truly p*ssed off. Why would I want to go if I was go- ing to be treated like this, before I had even got on the plane? I nearly decided not to go, then I thought, “no, I’m gonna’ go”. I was going to find out why I was not welcome in Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36
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