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The Independent Travel
Paul Harris was waiting to have his passport examined on entry to Israel. Just a formality. Or so he thought

Who can deny that frisson of unease as you stand in line to have your passport examined? But Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport is not some flea-ridden desert outpost, but the modern and efficient entry point for international visitors to Israel. A bank of smartly uniformed young Israeli girls peruse passports.

Eyes and fingers sped over the pages and tapped the keys on the terminal. The operation was repeated. I could swear the eyebrows were raised, and any trace of welcome on her visage had been replaced by a glance of appraisal.

"Your first time in Israel?"


"Purpose of your visit?"


The computer started to print something. I was nodded through, but then the gate to the arrivals hall ahead was closed and arms came to grab me.

"Come with us," said a voice.

An illuminated sign in English and Hebrew drew closer and more legible - "Police Post". I was about to become the spectator in a drama in which all the actors - except myself - spoke Hebrew. It was like stumbling into a foreign cinema and watching a film from which the subtitles have been omitted.

I asked what was going on. "You be quiet. You are in big trouble," warned my female friend.

I haven't been in the country long enough to be in any sort of trouble, I mused, but decided to keep that thought to myself. A more senior plain- clothes policeman arrived in the room. Questions, seemingly without point, came one after another. What is your work? When do you say you were here last? Is your father's name John? Are you positive of your date of birth? Do you always use the name Paul Anthony Harris? And then the cruncher: have you been deported from Israel? Then the bombshell. "You know you are banned from entry into the State of Israel. Tomorrow you will answer questions at the Ministry of the Interior in Jerusalem."

After an overnight stay at a "secure address" I hit the telephone. The British Embassy was closed for Christmas and New Year, but the proconsul was at home. Many calls later, police headquarters in Jerusalem advised, without explanation: "You may stay."

That evening, at a party, I met what is euphemistically termed "an informed source".

"Ah, so you are the famous Paul Harris!"

I must have looked puzzled.

"Paul Harris is a name a little too well known here."

My namesake - same name, same father's name, same date of birth - had been deported from Israel after drug- and gun-smuggling offences. He was now back in operation around the Middle East.

My source advised: "Next time you visit, I suggest you use another name."