I’m off to Israel for a quick three-day work trip. In these extraordinary times, it feels as if I’m the only person heading towards the Levant as opposed to pouring out of it.
For me, entering Israel is not the easiest thing to do. It’s one of the rules of travel writing that immigration officials do not understand why you like to travel to “interesting” places. Israel is particularly touchy. Last time I went there, I was taken out of the check-in queue and interrogated. My passport was checked and it was then that my visas to such places as North Korea, Libya and… worst of all... Iran caused quite a sensation.
As usual, I didn’t help matters. When they asked me why I was born in Beirut, I replied facetiously that I had had very little to do with the matter. When they asked me what my profession was, I replied truthfully that I was a “comedian”. It would have been easier to say travel writer, but I stupidly went with my principal occupation.
The final nail in my travel coffin was when they asked me why I’d travelled to Iran? I replied truthfully that I’d gone there to ski. That was it – I was whisked away for further interrogation. They did finally let me on the plane, but the reception in Tel Aviv was even worse. We went through the same questions and I got the same unimpressed reactions. Eventually, I was taken into a room and interviewed by the Shin Bet, who were very concerned with my claims that there was skiing to be had in Iran.
I brought out my laptop and started showing them photos from my trip to their arch enemy. Despite their disapproval, they couldn’t help but be a little fascinated – and soon I had quite an audience for my Axis of Evil holiday snaps. I had to cut the show short, however, when I suddenly remembered that my next batch of photos – a trip to Dominica – showed some of the local herbage rather too prominently.
Eventually, I remembered that I had a letter from the company that I was working for. It was in Hebrew and I handed it over without any idea of what it said. It did the trick. Everybody relaxed and I was soon allowed in. When I got it translated, it said that I was an international film star of some repute and that I should be treated as a VIP. I requested another letter for me to carry on this trip. I’m not sure it’s as good as the last one. It’s from the minister of tourism and proclaims that I am an official guest at an event in town and should be allowed in. It doesn’t quite have the fanfare of the last one, but it’s better than nothing.
I even got into an argument while leaving Israel last time. I was taken out of yet another queue and quizzed as to why one of my middle names was Romulus? “Is Arab name?” shouted the official. “No,” I replied, “I was conceived in Rome and Romulus was one of the founders of the city... killed his twin brother... raised by wolves….”
Again, I wasn’t helping matters – and I knew it.Reuse content