5 PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENTS (Dec 2001)
Encounter with Ben Gurion Airport
Getting in and out the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv/Lydda can turn out to be anything between an almost entertaining absurd theatre and a most unpleasant experience. Below follows a small guide to the encounter with the Airport Security Service, ASS.
The Airport Security Service is an entity of its own and is not part of the GSS General Security Service), better know as Shin Beth. GSS is around, but unless you become a ëspecial caseí ,youíll just deal with the Airport Security Service. Though ASS take their authority beyond the limit, they do have limited rights and authority. A good thing to keep in mind.
All non-Israeli citizen must fill-in a visa formula upon arrival. Usually itís of little 13 trouble getting through the security check at the airport: A few basic questions at the booth and a few questions by the ASS ten meters past the booth. Besides the line at the booth everything normally take less than five minutes. However ,the Airport Security Service may choose to go into a brief interrogation asking you questions like: who invited you and do you have an invitation? Where will you stay? Why did you choose to come now? Unless you actually are invited by a partner organization) ISM doesnít count (!or have a home organization to refer to, just say that youíre a tourist to visit the Holy Land. Do not enter any political discussion or make any statements. Itís not worth it.
Whereas it used to be unlikely that the ASS could try to refuse you entry, April 2002 saw that change. Due to international interference in Israeli military operations during the military invasions and sieges of Palestinian cities in March and April of 2002, Israeli authorities began denying entry to anyone suspected of being a ìPalestinian sympathizer.î This resulted not only in peace groups being turned away, but interfaith delegations, medical and humanitarian workers and international organization representatives. Those who followed our advice, however, did not get turned away.
– Do NOT come in large groups
– Do NOT indicate that you are coming to join the ISM
– Do NOT indicate that you are planning to be in the West Bank and Gaza.
– Do NOT carry anything on you that could label you a ìPalestinian sympathizer, in case you are singled out for search.
– DO have a good story prepared about why you are coming to ISRAEL
– DO have contact information and material to support your story
If it happens that you are refused entry, you will be put in a holding cell in the airport until a flight out can be arranged for you. You should ask to call your embassy right away (they should let you do this from the holding cell. Your embassy is usually the only call they will let you make) and have your embassy make a call for you. Have them call your home support, who should then call the ISM or a lawyer in Israel directly.
Contrary to what you may expect, getting out is a completely different story than getting in .Whereas most people can get in OK, leaving is where things may get tough and unpleasant .It may take hours to get out – odd as it may sound. But donít panic – youíll make it in the end! Most other countries do luggage and body scanning and thatís it for security. Israel has a procedure at the airport that is 10 percent security and 90 percent ëbullyingí. Always referred to as ìfor you own personal security.î
Briefly, this is the scenario: One or two Airport Security Service personnel will approach you asking for your ticket and passport. Then theyíll ask you a long range of questions, finally checking your luggage by hand. You donít have to check-in, theyíll do that ,and you go straight the transit area or gate.
The scenario in detail: The ASS personnel will always try to be friendly but reserved. They usually work in pairs, conferring with small clusters of other security staff. Theyíll take your passport and ticket and will keep them until theyíve done the check-in or youíre done with the interrogation and luggage check. Then theyíll ask you the security questions: Whatís your destination, is the luggage all yours, who packed it, was it under your surveillance after being packed, did you receive any items from anybody. And thatís about it for the security questions, now follows the 90 percent irrelevant questions: Why do you fly with this company (e.g. BA or SAS), why do you (in the event) have a connected flight, what did you pay for the ticket, why did you visit Israel these days, if you have a co-operating organization here why didnít you just call them on the phone, how did you get to the airport, who did you meet with and why Öetc. The questions can be everything from amusingly stupid to annoyingly offensive.
Before entering the airport you should decide by yourself what level of discussion you are prepared to enter. Boldly speaking: do you feel the need to make statements if the going gets tough – or do you feel just to ëplay the gameí and go easy. Or something in between.
By playing the game,you are just a tourist, who stayed at a hotel, who didnít meet with Palestinians, who didnít participate in anything Ö etc. Doing this, your chances of getting through the security check smoothly are higher but never guaranteed.
By making statements,you do not hide that you, for example, stayed with Palestinian friends — but you refuse to give their names. (Please note! The Airport Security Service personnel have NO right, whatsoever, to get personal information about people living under the Palestinian Authority.) Or you donít hide that youíve met with various ëanti-occupation organizationsí .The tougher you get the tougher they get.
The bottom line is: answer all their questions with personal information as the ultimate limit. If you choose not to hide that you know Palestinians privately and met with them ,the ASS will certainly ask for their personal information. When refusing this ASS will occasionally threaten you and say that you wonít reach your flight if you donít cooperate. They may even bring a supervisor who yells at you that theyíll keep you if you donít behave. These are empty threats; in the end youíll win the power game and youíll catch your plane. Just stay calm and cool.
They often swap teams so you get a new team of interrogation personnel or theyíll confer your information with each other and them come back asking the same question again or asking for an in-depth explanation.
After the interrogation the luggage check comes. Donít get too optimistic if they start by scanning your luggage – theyíll hand-check it anyway. The hand-check can be described as follows: All your bags will be completely emptied, they will turn everything inside-out, all electronic devices will taken aside for a special check (unless you – against all odds – persuade them not to. (So, within minutes youíll ses your personal belongings spread all over the place!
Youíll be asked to explain what things are if its not clear to them, and you may be asked to turn on your laptop to demonstrate that itís a working PC and not a bomb that goes off (yes!). Keep batteries in your devices so they can see that it works as expected.
You may expect that the Israeli Airport Security Service (ASS) is well organized , well structured and with the big general view. But they are not. Rather, they are disorganized and disordered – sometimes with a strict procedure, sometimes behaving randomly (e.g. having a bag searched twice by the same person). First they get started checking your luggage, you should have one single focus: Get all your belongings back in your bags safe and unbroken!
Do NOT carry any private information about Palestinians youíve met or know. Business cards and names of people at upper level positions at organizations are OK, but never any private address or phone number. The ASS have no right, whatsoever, to get personal information about people living under the Palestinian Authority. Got new friends? Write yourself an e-mail before you leave back home with names and contact information and dispose your notes. And donít forget to clean sweep your laptop or PDA.
Do NOT carry any sensitive paper. At least not when leaving. If you carry any paper or document you consider sensitive, one way or the other, then send them by fax or mail.
Do NOT accept personal harassment. The ASS personnel may do a body search on you .This is done by a person of your own gender and behind a curtain. This is by the book. However, from time to time it happens that they ask you to undress naked for the body search. This is not by the book; it is personal harassment and beyond their authority. So, never accept to undress naked or to do anything else that violates your personal integrity.
Do NOT accept their offer to have personal items ìsent to you laterî. It may happen that the Airport Security Service gets extra suspicious about some of your personal items and expresses the utmost need to do further security checks on the item (camera, laptop, shaver etc.) and that they will send it to you when you get back home. Never accept this: you may never see the item again and if you do itíll be broken.
Anne Robinson-Peter, a 44-year-old graphic artist from New York who is an activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), has been held for the past week at Ben-Gurion Airport’s detention center on the grounds that she poses “a security risk to the state.”
The Interior Ministry denied Robinson-Peter entry to Israel when the U.S. citizen landed last Wednesday from New York, saying that it was complying with “the request of the security establishment.”
The petition submitted to court on behalf of the activist stated that she came to Israel on a two-week visit for business purposes, as a graphic designer and visual artist, “to find partners, Israelis and Palestinians, for business and artistic projects and ventures.”
The petition states that she arrived in Israel with photography equipment and accompanied by a friend, a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, “to document her journey in Israel and the territories.” She also planned to attend the wedding of some Israeli friends.
Robinson-Peter was allowed to visit Israel last summer, the petition noted, and that she “has no criminal record, and has many friends both Jewish and non-Jews who have ties to the ISM organization which calls for non-violent social change and for the end of an Israeli military presence in the occupied territories.”
No doubt that she is lying. Whatsoever. The proof is in the ISM Information Pack, which suggests the use of lies and deception. I have posted about it before, but now seems like an opportune time for a refresher course.