Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Going Past Israeli Customs

In all my years of travelling, I have always gone past customs very smoothly. This time, going to Israel is a big hassle. Our travel agent already briefed us beforehand that before we board the plane, the customs officers will ask a lot of questions. I think because they are so afraid of terrorists that they make everyone's lives inconvenient.

In the first place, our luggage cannot be locked, as the customs officers will open at random and check. While transiting at Bangkok, we handed over our passports, and then the grilling started. We were asked questions like :

1. What is your purpose of going to Israel?
2. Do you know anyone there?
3. Did anyone give you anything to bring over?
4. Did you pack everything in your luggage on your own?
5. How long will you be staying?

This is the first time I came across customs officers asking so many questions! I do not think any other airlines or going to any other countries, is ever so troublesome. In the first place, even if we answer the questions in a politically correct way, who is to know? I may be a terrorist for all anyone cares, but still answer the questions in a politically correct way! No terrorist is going to blow the cover so easily!

But the main thing is we managed to make the plane and off to Israel we went! But our passports were not to be stamped, otherwise countries like Malaysia and Indonesia will never welcome us again! Hence, we had to specifically tell the guy at the counter not to stamp our passports, so he printed out a white immigration card on the spot for us and that would be our entry visa into Israel.

However, in Israel, due to the demarcation zones between the Israelis and the Palestines, there are border crossings to go through. Before we were due to go into Palestine territory, we were asked to bring along our passports. So we had to bring our passports to go to Bethlehem, which is in Palestine territory. Yet there was no checks that day.

On the last day before we were due to leave, we had to go deep into the West Bank, which is Palestine Muslim and Bedouin territory. We all had our passports with us and our luggages in the coach. Upon coming out from the West Bank on our way to Tel Aviv, two uniformed officers stopped our coach at the gantry and came up the coach to check our passports. For some reason, my passport was confiscated.

Besides me, three other ladies' passports were also confiscated. I wonder if it is due to the fact that I went Malaysia and Indonesia recently? In any case, the uniformed female said all those with their passports taken, had to take all their luggages down and go to the little room in the corner.

I had to leave the coach and take my passport. I got a real fright, as I thought could it be I had been going Malaysia and Indonesia quite frequently lately that I had to be detained in Israel? I could see my mum's face turning ashen.

We took our luggages and put it through the scanner. All our luggages were stopped. We were asked to open our luggage and let them see what was inside. My two bottles of wine were discovered and they took a look at the wine.

The other girls' were scanned for wine, Dead Sea products and water. As long as there is bottle, tube, jar and whatnot, we had to declare and let them check. Luckily they did not discover the tubes of Dead Sea Mud Masks I kept wrapped in between my clothes!

Afterthat, our hand luggages were being scanned. Mine was fine. But those that had iPads and laptops had to remove them, let them check, and scanned again. Finally, everything was in order, nothing was confiscated, our passports were returned, and we could board the coach again. Thank goodness! I was actually imagining how life in an Israeli prison would be like!

But the delay cost us our last venue of Jaffa Port. I would love to have gone there, but unfortunately, we already took so long at the social mission at West Bank, so even if there was no holdup, we were still running on tight schedule. My mum was especially angry, because she was upset that the person in charge of the social mission trip got carried away and took such a long time, hence holding up everyone else, which made us unable to go to Hebron Old City.

Yet when I and the other three got detained at customs and everyone in the coach were wondering what happened, that person took the opportunity to ask the rest of them to fill in the feedback form, just to "save time" while waiting! My mum kind of told her off for being insensitive!

When we went to the airport, very early just in case, again it was another round of questions. We were departing, not arriving, yet the customs officers again asked us if anyone gave us anything to bring out, or if we accepted any gifts from anyone. 

Hence all things that were given to us, like the bag and cap from the travel agent, the tour booklet, the wooden oil lamp from Nazareth and the olive wood communion cup from The Garden Tomb, had to be in our hand carry and declared at the customs.

After going through the customs, we had to bring our luggages to scan. Most of us did not pass the scanning and were asked to go for a luggage check. When I got to the counter, the lady asked if I had wine inside. I said yes. She then asked how many bottles? I said two. She asked me what kind? I said one white and one dessert iced. After that she was satisfied and let me go. Again, they did not notice the Dead Sea products I had in my luggage, whereas the rest were being asked and searched for those!

Finally I was able to check in at the counter. And I managed to get a window seat this time for an overnight flight! After going past the customs, things were smoother, and we did not have anymore hassle before boarding the plane. We could even have our dinner and shop at the duty free shop before boarding.

It was smooth all the way until the plane arrived at Bangkok for our transit, and then on the next flight back home. Finally I was home, and I so would not want to go through that again! I really will not mind going back to Israel, but oh, the customs itself is really a big hassle that it makes me think twice about going again!

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