On the whole, airport security has never been much of an issue for me. True, South African Customs did question me for an hour before letting me back into the country, but that was mainly because I’d spent so much time in Brazil and the customs officer was going there to get her boobs done. Other than that, the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in an airport was having my pepper spray confiscated in Nicaragua.
Israeli airport security though? Another story.
I flew into Joburg just before 6pm and made my way straight to the El Al Check-in desk because I planned to get through security ASAP and spend a leisurely few hours in the Duty Free. However, before I could even get near the desk one of the Israeli staff pulled me aside, asked for my name and checked a list he was holding. My name was highlighted, which turned out to be rather unfortunate.
The first man asked a few questions and seemed to find it very strange that I was going to Israel to do Krav Maga, having never done any form of martial arts before. He also seemed surprised that I didn’t have any solid touristy plans.
He disappeared with my passport, only to be replaced by another staff member. She asked the same questions, looked at photos of my apartment in Netanya, checked my flights to Vietnam and examined the Whatsapps between my Krav Maga instructor and myself. (Big shout-out to my friends for not sending any inappropriate messages while my phone was in the hands of Israeli security). Unsurprisingly, I was asked numerous times whether I had spent any time in The Middle East.
This entire process was repeated by the head of security, who told me (hilariously) that my “story was weak.” MY STORY WAS NOT WEAK! Surely other people have traveled to Israel for the sole purpose of doing Krav Maga?
After about an hour of this, I was told my baggage needed to be searched. I was taken to a waiting room of sorts, where a very friendly staff member did a body search. In fact, it would be remiss not to mention that all the El Al staff members were incredibly friendly. At least five people offered me water over the course of my three-hour stint in the custody of Israeli security, and everyone was very polite.
About an hour before the plane was due to depart, I started to panic. The head of security must have noticed I was looking a little tearful, because he stopped to chat, assured me that everything would be fine, and generally cheered me up.
For some reason they were very suspicious of all my electronics, so I was told that my hand luggage needed to be placed into the hold. Bye bye compression socks, toothbrush and power-bank. Even my lipstick was removed from my bag? (Clearly they know something I don’t).
Just after 9pm the check-in counter was long closed and I was feeling decidedly defeated. With a great sense of relief I was finally informed that I was good to go. Yess!
The one positive outcome of the ordeal was that I was given a personal escort to my seat. We went through the Crew Passport Control and Security and skipped the boarding queues onto the plane. I even got to go ahead of people in wheelchairs! (I’m not sure if this perk was worth that interrogation, but it was something).
I had hoped that they would bump me up into business to compensate for my trauma, but no – Seat 52A was as good as it got for me.
Fortunately, the flight was uneventful and getting through customs and security in Tel Aviv was a breeze. I’m happy and safe in Netanya and life is good.
Apparently leaving Israel is even more difficult than getting in though. Wish me luck!
I decided not to publish this post until after I had left Israel, juuust in case it had any impact on my departure from Ben Gurion Airport.
However, after a month in Israel (and with a slightly better understanding of the social and political climate), I have nothing but respect for the security measures that the Israelis take. Sure, they can be a bit of a hassle, but I’ve never felt safer.
As it transpired, leaving the country was remarkably uncomplicated. After the initial pre-check-in questioning, I received a ‘5’ on my passport barcode and resigned myself to another grueling experience.
Based on my research, the security authorities work on a scale of 1-6, with 1 being the least suspicious and 6 being decidedly dodgy. I therefore expected another few hours of interrogation, but besides the mandatory search of my hand luggage, it was a breeze! I even had some time to go shopping in the Duty-Free!
I will publish a post on my month in Israel soon, but it was without doubt one of the best countries I have ever travelled to and I hope to return soon!