Travel Experience in Entering Israel
Trip Start Jan 06, 2006
118Trip End Sep 02, 2008
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- overheard in the din of battle
Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. Of course by 'everyone' I mean travellers on the Istanbul - Cairo trek, and by 'Disneyland' I mean Israel. Lots of us are reluctant to make the trip because of what it will do to our passports. It's no secret that having an Israeli stamp in your passport, or one from an Egyptian or Jordanian border point with Israel, will result in being refused entry to nearly every Muslim nation, save Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.
I had seen all the Muslim nations hostile to Israel that I wanted to see (this time, anyway), and my passport is nearly full with entry visas and stamps. I will have to get a new one fairly soon. So I wasn't worried about an Israeli stamp. This entry may be less interesting than most, however, because it will contain mostly technical details.
Leaving Amman: I wanted to leave on Saturday, but this would not happen. It was the Sabbath, and the Israelis closed their border to the Allenby/King Hussein bridge at 12.00. This means that any service taxi leaving Amman after 10.30 would not make it to the bridge in time. Otherwise, the border normally closes at 2 pm. This means anyone wishing to make the crossing must leave Amman before 12.30.
At the Jordan checkpoint, Sunday morning: It took a hour on very indirect roads to get to the border point. To leave Jordan, foreigners have to cough up 5 dinars as an exit tax. However, the officals did not stamp my passport. I didn't have to ask for them to not stamp it: they just stamped a the exit tax recipt and that was it. The procedure was the same for other Canadians who travelled through at the same time, and an Australian (even if he thinks he's from the 7th state!).
Crossing the bridge took a while, because we needed to wait for the JETT bus for tourists to be ready to leave. We crossed the bridge between Jordan and the Israeli occupied West Bank before I knew it. The bridge is a piddly little concrete thing that one barely notices. We had to wait in the bus for a while, and then we were allowed to go a few meters, get off, and the Israelis did a preliminary passport check.
Back on the bus, we drove a few hundred meters more. We got off with our luggage and everyone's bags were put on trolleys. The officals take your passport, put a sticker on the back, and put a corresponding sticker on the bag that is eventually checked once you are let into Israel.
Then there are the usual metal detectors, and a bizarre air jet device, which blasts everyone who enters Israel with compressed air. Then it was time to fill out an entry form (usual in most countries) and wait in line to have it checked out.
When it was my turn, I handed my passport over to a very pretty customs officer. She looked perhaps 19. All of the customs officers were female and about her age (It's part of the universal military service, it would seem). She proceeded to vet me about the contents of my passport. - What is that? she asked, pointing to my Syrian visa. I told her what it was. She asked about my Lebanese visa as well. She frowned.
Then she asked me some questions about my travels so far, what was I doing in those countries, why was I coming to Israel and all, what was my father's name, my grandfather's name, if I had Arab contacts in Israel, where was I going to stay, how long would I be in Israel, and such things. On an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper she wrote out my responses. Then she told me that I could sit down. Oh oh.
Most of the tourists on my bus were told the same thing. The exceptions were a couple of Canadians who had not visited Syria or Lebanon. They weren't asked many questions and they were waived through. But Japanese, Korean, Australian and Canadians who had visited those two Enemy States were all told to take a seat.
Actually, for me, nothing serious happened. I had to wait perhaps fifty minutes, and then I was summoned to a window by another young lady, who asked me the same questions the first woman asked. She had my previous answers on hand and made sure I said the same thing.
Then she asked me if I would like a stamp in my passport. Otherwise, she would only stamp my visa sheet that would be tucked in my passport (to hand in upon my exit).
Oh, could I refuse someone so beautiful? I could not. But I could have said no if I wanted to. She marked one of my passport's pages with the red ink of her Israeli stamp. Afterwards, my passport was checked a few times, and then I gathered my things to wait for the others to come through.
The fellow on the Aussie passport came along soon after I did, as did some of the Japanese. However, of the people who came in on the JETT bus, two did not come through and I gave up waiting after nearly two hours.
One Canadian and one Japanese had problems: They had had their visas extended in either Lebanon or Syria. Later I met up with the Canadian and he had been held up 4 1/2 hours. He had been in Lebanon for three months, and the Israelis wanted to know the story about that.
He was questioned a bit more intensely than I was. Older male officals hauled him into some office to answer questions about what he did in Lebanon, etc. The women at the customs windows felt pretty sorry for him, but eventually he was let in to Israel.
Once allowed into the country, I changed money at an exchange place in the border control centre. The rate was much better than I found in Amman. So wait until you actually are allowed into Israel before you change your money. Then, after a 35 shequel bus ride through the West Bank, going along a few minefields(!), I was in Jerusalem. I will talk about that city in my next entry.
Leaving Israel took a bit of time. The Israelis don't necessarily stamp your passport, but they do slap every tourist with a 136 shequel exit tax (35 USD). Then I had to wait for a tourist JETT bus (I couldn't take the normal bus).
Back in Jordan, I didn't need to buy a new entry visa or anything that would give away my presence in Israel. The Jordan border officials stamped a paper and gave me back my passport. An hour and 4 dinars later, a service taxi brought me into Amman.
I heard a couple of horror stories about entering Israel. The folks who told me the stories were fine after all, if a bit scarred. They were both Americans whom I met in Jordan, and who had flown with El Al, the Israeli air carrier. Both men had been interrogated intensely before being allowed on the plane. Both had all of their clothes individually X-rayed, and one was strip searched twice. The latter had previously visited Lebanon for a week, and they wanted to know everything about his visit. Upon their arrivals in Tel Aviv, they had deja vu and instead of El Al agents, Israeli border officals held them for a hours of interrogations before letting them in, accusing them of having "arab contacts."
Disclaimer: Of course, don't blame me if you have a different experience than the one I did. Things change every day, and furthermore, everything in this blog is utter fiction.