I held my British Airways online ticket squarely in my hand as I walked through the sliding glass door of the Ben Gurion International Airport. It was nearly 4:00 AM. My flight would not leave for another 3 1/2 hours.
Vivid memories of my last experience at this particular airport whirled through my mind as the first security checkpoint came into distant view. I began to scoot my luggage forward with reluctant optimism, as the airport appeared vacant of aspiring passengers.
“Excuse me, Miss!” a voice called from behind. I turned around to see a young Shin Bet officer smiling at me through thick-framed Harry Potter glasses. He proudly exhibited a shiny new badge on his chest with the word “Trainee” printed in bold English and Hebrew letters. “My name is Yoav. If you don’t mind, I’m going to practice asking you some procedural questions before your flight! Is that okay?” His voice rang with enthusiasm, something I had not experienced during my previous encounter with the Ben Gurion Shin Bet unit. I was flattered to have attracted the attention of a mere trainee. I must look innocent.
I glanced to the side to see a large Shin Bet officer, bearing a large shiny badge that read “Supervisor” in big letters, hovering over Yoav. Supervisor wore a scowl reminiscent of Professor Snape, sinister and judging, awaiting Potter’s inevitable screw up. Oh great, I thought to myself. This is so not going to be a pleasant experience.
So the questioning began. “Why were you in Israel?” “What were you researching?” “Who do you work for?” “Who paid for your trip?” “What is your occupation?” “Where do you go to school?” (and the characteristic *gasp* that follows after I say “The American University in Cairo”) “You study in Egypt?” “What do you study there?” “WHY are you studying the Middle East?” “So you LIVE in the US but you STUDY in Egypt?” “Why?” “Why are you interested in the conflict?” “Why this conflict and not other conflicts?” “How did you conduct your research?” “Do you have notes?”
“Where in Israel did you go?” “How many times did you go to West Bank?” “Where did you go?” “Who did you meet there?” “Why were you in Hevron?” “Who did you meet there?” “Where did you live?” “How many buses did you take?” “Have you been to Tel Aviv?” “What is the bus number from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv?”
“Did you make any friends in Israel?” “What are their names and where do they live?” “So you have Jewish friends in Israel, but do you have any Arab friends?”
“Why were you in Egypt for so long?” “Who are your friends there?” “What are their names?” “Who did you live with?” “Who did you travel with?”
You get the idea. This went on for a little over an hour, and I was shuffled between four different officers, sometimes more than one at once. It went considerably better than last time, though I encountered a few problems explaining to Shin Bet why I had tear gas in my duffle bag (its a Christmas present for my sister). We went through my camera, and I pointed out each person individually, and gave a brief description of each photo.
Shin Bet also insisted on viewing my research notes and my blog. All of my notes save for the random scribbles in my books were on my laptop, which was briefly confiscated and had to be shipped separately to Philadelphia. After an item-by-item search of all three of my bags and a slightly invasive pat-down (executed by two female Shin Bet officers in a four foot by four foot dressing room), I was able to successfully board my flight with exactly three minutes to spare.