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Friday, November 6, 2009

Hounding my Nephew

It’s a standing joke in our family that my American nephew always provides me with plenty of stories for articles whenever he visits us.
He’s a very nice, kind young man with a good heart to whom ‘interesting’ things tend to happen.
But usually these are of the heartwarming kind such as being picked on by non-religious family at the Kotel to help them make a Bar Mitzvah or giving tzedaka to a beggar who he realized to his horror was dead, calling the emergency services and waiting while the police and MDA arrived etc.

But his visit this time brought him more sinister attention then he has ever encountered.

It all started because after being here for a friend’s wedding and seeing all his local relations, he decided to go for a few days to visit Turkey and then return here, pick up his luggage and go back to the States.
On his return back from Turkey the clerk at passport control asked him, as they often do, how long he was here for .
He replied, “ About five hours” .
As he moved on towards the exit he was approached by a security personnel with a dog who asked him to step inside for questioning.

It didn’t take long to ‘work out’ why the alarm bells went off .
How many people come to Israel for only five hours. We can only guess they suspected him of coming just to drop off drugs or weapons and then leave – and the dog was there to sniff them out.
My poor innocent nephew explained that he had been here for the last two weeks staying with us and attending a friend’s wedding etc. The previous
stamps in his passport could attest to that.
They questioned him, searched him and grilled him some more. And then let him go.

Meanwhile I had booked him an airport transfer to get him back to the airport in time for his return flight to the States. His previous transfer cab had arrived very late and he had been worried that he’d miss his flight so I deliberately ordered this one an hour early.

He arrived back at our house, showered, packed, said his goodbyes and was off.

As his cab entered the area of Ben Gurion Aiport a solder got on, looked all round and his eyes alighted on my nephew.
“ You. What time is your flight?”.
He told him. .
“So why are you here so early?”
Because his ‘helpful’ aunt had ordered him the transfer early – it wasn’t his fault poor kid!
It then became obvious that his photograph must have been circulated – the soldier had known exactly who he was looking for and hadn’t spoken to anyone else in the cab (except the boy next to him to ask if he was traveling with my nephew).

He was then profiled ( questioned) a further eight times between his arrival at the airport and getting on the plane. He was asked everything possible about our family ( where he stayed) our occupations, names and number of children, what our son did in the army, what he last ate at our home, etc . The questions, he said, got very repetitive and boring, (presumably the idea was to check for inconsistencies), but as he had plenty of time to spare he took it all in good stead. Fortunately he’s an easy going boy and he didn’t lose his temper nor let them rattle him.

I can’t decide what to make of all this. On the one hand I should sleep easier knowing that our security officers are on the ball and relentlessly pursue anyone whom they suspect of illegal offences regardless of that fact that every detail of his innocent explanation checks out completely.
The other part of me feels so sorry for my nephew who, because of an innocent three day tourist trip to Turkey was treated like a class one security threat and relentlessly hounded by the authorities . I also wonder about the time and manpower wasted searching for someone whose story was very easy to check out.


cyril said...

I have on several occassions been in a country for a few hours between flights, twice in London.
On both occassions I took the tube into the West End and went to Reubens for a salt beef sandwich.

Ann said...

A very good way to spend a few hours in London.
But you have to admit that Tel Aviv is not exactly known as a stop-over between ongoing flights.

Reb Mordechai said...

Ann, it reminds me of the time, back in 1984 when I visited friends in Los Angeles and Mexico who I had been at Machon with in Yerushalayim the previous year.

On the second leg of my tour, I took a flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City. Back then I was a 19 year old long fuzzy haired London University student who looked like a member of the Baader Meinhof gang. Upon entering the passport control lounge of Mexico City airport I was met by rows of tables as far as the eye could see and a single queue of passengers, passports in hand waiting for a free table. The police were checking every single person, their luggage placed on the table and thoroughly searched. I was looking around the hall and suddenly I realised that I had caught the eye of a security officer. He walked towards me. My heart was trying to make a run for it by trying to break through my rib cage. I remained frozen to the spot. He was now face to face with me. He looked down and took my passport from my hand. After flicking through it he looked up again and asked me "British"? I answered in the affirmative. It was the British passport that gave it away I suppose? "Come with me" he ordered. I summoned up all my British coolness (they hand it out along with the Eleven Plus exam) as he led me through the rows of tables. We reached the security barrier. He opened up one of joints in the barrier and gestured with his hand for me to walk through. "Welcome to Mexico" he said and turned to go. To this day I have no idea why he singled me out amongst all those hundreds of passengers.