A run-in with airport security guards and an encounter with Herzl.
"Do you also have an ID card?" the security guard at Ben-Gurion International Airport asks me as she riffles through my passport.
"Yes," I reply, and hand it to her.
I know I've written about this a million times, and I'll probably write about it another million times - but maybe someone up there will read this.
The minute I saw the numbers on the sticker that the first security person pasted on my suitcase and passport, I knew I was going to have to endure the "suspect" procedure. "Please proceed to there," the guard says, indicating the scanning machine.
I know I am standing in the line for that machine for no reason: I have logged enough flying time to know that, with this sticker, they don't really look at the suitcase there. (And I ask the head of the Airports Authority up front not to send a response to my comments here! ) Believe me, I hear the guards talking among themselves, and sometimes - because of the sticker number and my confusing exterior appearance - they apparently think I am not an Israeli citizen who might understand their language. But I know that bags with certain sticker numbers go through the scanning machine for absolutely no reason.
Sure enough, as soon as my suitcase emerges on the other side, the security woman who examines its contents tells me, in English, to proceed to the counter where items are checked manually. I am told to open the bag, and while a security woman wearing gloves empties the contents into a plastic box, another guard peruses my passport and ticket, and questions me.
"You are flying to Zurich and returning from Berlin?"
"And you will also be in Hamburg?"
'What is the purpose of your trip?"
"Public readings. I am going on a tour of readings from my book."
"Do you perhaps have the book with you?"
"Yes," I reply and take out a copy from my bag. The security man checks it from all sides to ascertain that it is in fact a book and not a faithful forgery of one.
The young security woman - she's probably 20 - runs her hands over the clothes and then passes some kind of detector over them. Every item, every sock, every pair of underpants, one after the other. The security man, who has meanwhile taken my papers for a consultation with another guy, returns and says the empty suitcase has to be sent to a laboratory. Some other gloved woman takes the suitcase, while the other young woman with the box of clothes examines the contents of the toiletries bag with the detector. Not satisfied with the manual check, she empties the contents into another box and takes it to the scanning machine.
I know I have written about this a million times, and I will probably write about it another million times. Because it's simply humiliating. If only these security people projected some embarrassment when they check your underwear, knowing in advance that it's clean; if they only at least looked apologetic for getting under your skin. But no: Their gaze is always brimming with confidence. They know they are doing holy work, and the look they give you is always accusatory. It's a look that says "How do you even dare allow yourself to fly?" Or, "Why doesn't someone like you understand that this airport is not meant for you? What's so hard for you to grasp - you bunch of retards who don't understand that flights are intended only for people of a certain type?"
The guard who took the plastic box containing the toiletry items now returns. "Alright," she says, "these can be put back into the toiletries bag."
"Fine," I say defiantly. "Go for it."
"I am not the one who is supposed to do it," she replies in a scornful tone. "Now wait for the suitcase to come back from the lab."
Nearly half an hour later, the empty suitcase returns, dismantled. The whole time I was waiting for it, I was not allowed to leave the place or go out for a smoke.
A few hours later, I dine in Basel with the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland and his wife. They are wonderfully cordial, and the fact that they showed up at the city's Literaturhaus for my reading was a surprise. My apprehension that an Israeli Embassy was again trying to take credit and impress the Europeans with how enlightened a country Israel is - a place thanks to which Arab writers can become a success story - is proven false after a few minutes of conversation, during which I understand that in the ambassador's residence they are really keeping tabs on events, reading and are well versed in the material.
In the course of a pleasant chat about the situation in Israel and Switzerland, the ambassador tells me about the Three Kings Hotel on the banks of the Rhine. Herzl stayed there and it's where the famous photograph of him was taken, leaning on the balcony railing as he conjures up the Jewish state.
I decide to walk back to the hotel, as this is an opportunity to see a little bit of the city, which I'll be leaving early the next morning. In the squares and plazas, preparations are under way for the great autumn fair: huge merry-go-rounds with winged horses and fairies holding magic wands, and stands selling sausages, pancakes and draft beer.
"Excellent weather," says one of the organizers, who accompanies me back to the hotel, as we walk across a vast bridge over the Rhine. "Relative to the usual end of October, you were very lucky."
The reflection of the shining lights of Basel, a city that has not known war for more than 600 years, glitters on the river. My escort tells me with deep sorrow that the Swiss are undergoing a difficult period in connection with the European Union and the euro.
"Is this the Three Kings Hotel?" I ask, apologizing for cutting into her remarks about the problems of the Swiss. The famous image of Herzl on the tranquil riverbank leaps up in front of my eyes.
"Indeed," she says with a smile.
Just then a reply to a text message I sent earlier - "What's doing at home?" - arrives on my mobile: "All fine. Some chaos in Gaza."
I look around and see nothing that reminds me of Palestine.