A group of tourists from India who came to Israel last week, ostensibly, for a five-day tour of the holy places, apparently had another goal in mind, which was foiled by the authorities.
The 21 tourists, in their 20s, entered Israel via the Allenby Bridge, spent two days in Nazareth, visited Bethlehem and were then to tour Jerusalem.
But their tour operator, who identified himself only as Simon, said: "After they left Bethlehem, the driver heard one of the tourists talking on his cell phone in English and setting up a meeting in Tel Aviv. After he finished the call, he asked the driver to take the group to Tel Aviv."
Simon said the driver called him to report the incident, and said the Indians had offered the driver $100 each to take them to Tel Aviv, eventually upping that to $1,000 each. "But the driver refused. I met them and told them we would go by the hotel and then go to Tel Aviv."
Simon said the passports of group members are collected and kept in the driver's safe on the bus for a number of reasons. "Since the people are here for a short time, we prefer to keep their passports so they don't lose them." However, Simon added that they also kept the passports because in recent years tourists had tended to abscond.
Simon called the Population and Immigration Authority head at Allenby Bridge, Dana Calderon, to report the incident, and she instructed him to drive straight to the bridge. Only when they neared the bridge did the group realize they were not on their way to Tel Aviv.
Calderon said: "We alerted the officials at the Allenby crossing to conduct the departure procedure quickly so the Indians would not realize what was happening."
Simon said his company communicated with the Jordanian tour company to have a bus waiting for the group on the other side.
"An hour later, they were on the other side, and they told the people on the Jordanian side, 'We knew the Israelis are no suckers,'" he said.
Simon's tour company brings some 40 groups a year, six of which are from India.
"We have recently seen quite a few cases in which entire groups or parts of groups take advantage of the fact that they are ostensibly tour groups to remain in Israel," Sabine Hadad, the Population and Immigration Authority's spokeswoman, said. "We do what we can to prevent the phenomenon and bring it to the attention of tour operators."
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