Our Holiday Journey:
Another rude and unpleasant experience at Ben Gurion Airport
By Nabil Razzouk
All of us were excited about going on our summer vacation - my wife, my little two-year-old daughter, Lolita, and I. As always, when our departure date gets closer, the anxiety starts kicking in since we have come to expect some harassment and rude behaviour from the staff of the so-called “Israel Airport Security Authority” at the airport. We tried to pack lightly and to leave any gifts unwrapped since we know that everything will be opened up and meticulously searched.
Upon our arrival at the airport, we queue to check in and are greeted by a half-asleep employee who requests our tickets and passports. As she goes through the documents, she starts the routine questions: “Where are you coming from now?” After our response, she becomes pale and calls to her colleague for help. When he arrives, she hands our documents to him and leaves. He takes over, starts to ask the same questions all over again, and then after about five minutes, gives the usual instructions: “Please wait here…” The supervisor is summoned and proceeds to go through our passports as if something were terribly wrong with the pages or the photos. Then the third round of questioning begins and culminates with the infamous RED stickers being put on each piece of luggage and each travel document. After that our luggage is passed through the screening machine, and then we are ushered to another line for what I call the “terrorist approach” check-in.
We wait in line for about 15 minutes, until the security personnel are ready for us to open every single bag. By now it is five in the morning and our lack of sleep has begun to catch up with us. My little girl keeps looking in vain for a quiet place to rest.
Finally, they call us to put the luggage on the counter. They turn the suitcases around and look at them from every angle as though they were aliens from space. One of the inspectors asks me to come over and unzip one of the suitcases. Two inspectors, who are wearing plastic protective gloves, approach the first piece of luggage and start taking everything out, piece by piece. Nothing escapes the touch of the gloved hands. It goes on and on for about an hour, and two more inspectors join in for the second piece of luggage. (Now we have five people attending to us - mixing everything up as they pull out more and more items from the luggage.)
The good part comes when they decide to snatch Lolita’s small “talking doll” for inspection. Despite the fact that she tries to hold on to it and even cries, the doll is taken away and subjected to the screening machine no less than three times. With tears in her eyes, Lolita watches in horror as she has no idea what on earth they are doing with her dolly. Then comes the dolly expert, who takes it away and tries to strip it right in front of us to see whether there is anything inside the toy. After about 20 minutes, he tries to give it back to Lolita, but she refuses to take it. I hold it for a while as she regains her composure and then give it back to her.
Next stage in the ordeal: the strip search. As each of us is accompanied by two security personnel (to make sure we do not escape), we are taken to the special body-search rooms. You take off your watch, you take off your shoes, and you wait in the little room before you are told to remove anything else.
Sometime later the guy with the “golden touch” comes to do the body search. Although I have been through it many times, I have never gotten used to it. But even worse is to watch them hunt down my little girl to force her to go through the metal detector machine (not only once, but twice). They laugh as they chase her around to make her run through the machine. When they finish and begin to escort us back to our luggage, I feel compelled to ask them a question: “Do you think a terrorist would attach a bomb or explosives to the body of his own baby ?” They all fall silent.
It goes without saying that there is no time left to shop in the duty-free area. Boarding for our flight has already begun when our security escorts take us through passport control.
I find this entire ordeal to be illogical, meaningless, rude, and unpleasant - outrageous for any human being to have to endure. And yet this happens on a daily basis at the airport to those who happen to be selected for this “special” treatment, and I believe it is good to document it and share it with others. If somebody dares to file a complaint, the answer will inevitably be: “… these are our security procedures, and our staff always behave in a professional manner …”
Nabil Razzouk is a humanitarian aid worker who works with an international NGO as an administrator and finance manager. He can be reached at email@example.com.