Welcome to Israel, You Subhuman

Re-entry into the country proved to be a humiliating affair, involving an interrogation and fingerprints.

An airport security check at Ben-Gurion International Airport (illustrative).
Dan Keinan

We landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Saturday morning. The kids had slept the whole flight and groggily awoke for the entry into Israel. We were shlepping the evidence of the sharp contrast in temperature from Berlin to Tel Aviv – five coats, long underwear and thermal socks.

After going through passport control, we headed for the baggage claim. The last time we came back, you still handed the transit pass to the inspector there and walked in. Now you slip the pass over a barcode reader that makes two glass doors open and let you through. My wife didn’t think our 2-year-old should pass through such a thing all by himself, so she picked him up and carried him in with her.

As soon as she passed through, the two female agents stationed there shouted after her in Hebrew: “What do you think you’re doing? That’s not the way to enter. Come back.” My wife exited through the manual turnstile, placed the child down in front of her, put the pass over the barcode reader again and they quickly passed through. More shouting, again in Hebrew, and again my wife hurried back out. This time I interjected: “Instead of shouting at her in a language she doesn’t understand, perhaps you could just explain to her what she’s supposed to do.”

My wife repeated the process once more, and our 6-year-old daughter went in after her. The inspectors were now focused on me. I said that I understood that at three o’clock in the morning it’s hard to be that nice, but suggested that they at least make an effort for the sake of the tourists who are coming to Israel.
“Are you calling us lazy?” one of them asked accusingly.

I tried to slide my pass over the machine so I could go in. One of the inspectors, who like her colleague had her coat covering her ID tag, told me that I could try all I liked, but I wasn’t going in.

And so I waited there, without knowing why. I called out to my daughter to calm her and told her that I couldn’t come in yet because these two girls were exploiting their power and behaving in an undemocratic way. They shooed my daughter away and had a brief discussion of my parenting skills, and then one said to the other: “Come, let’s move away so we don’t catch his germs.”
I told them they should be ashamed, and that this was not the way to treat someone who’s coming to visit Israel.

“Subhumans like you, better that you don’t come to Israel. It’s a good thing you don’t live here,” the “nicer” one of the two hissed at me. I told them they were acting like a pair of idiots.

After a long wait, another inspector with no visible ID arrived and asked for my passport. I asked her to identify herself. She refused. I said if she didn’t identify herself by her name and position, I was not handing over my passport. She got mad, walked away and returned 20 minutes later with a policewoman named Osnat Biton. The policewoman took my passport and asked me to follow her, promising to give me the inspectors’ names later on. My request that someone go explain to my family what was happening fell on deaf ears. They continued waiting.

Officer Biton led me to a detention room for people denied entry and asked me to wait there. Soon after that a policeman was posted there to keep an eye on me. Fifteen minutes later she told me to come with her to the second floor and said that I was accused of insulting a public worker, that I was being issued a summons for questioning the following day and that until then my passport was confiscated. She refused to give me the names of the inspectors.

That night, my wife told me she now understood something I once said to her, about the reason I decided to leave Israel. In his new book, David Grossman writes a wonderful sentence about how in all our efforts to forget one big thing from our past, we lose sight of the little things too. I asked her to explain. You once told me, she said, that you left because you felt that you sometimes were treating people in your everyday life the way you used to treat them in the territories, when you were a soldier.

In the morning, I drove to Terminal 1. My interrogator, Haim Amiel, promised that I would be given the names of the two inspectors who lodged the complaint about me once the investigation was completed. Amiel explained that I was accused of calling public workers lazy idiots. He took down my testimony and said the results of the investigation would be mailed to me. He also said that he couldn’t give me the names of the ones who lodged the complaint.

We went into the next room, where they took my fingerprints. I said that for a person with no criminal record, who really didn’t do anything, this was a humiliating process. A policeman named Ziv sitting at the next desk told me to quit whining – now my vacation had an extra, exciting aspect to it, unlike the boring vacations taken by most people. Amiel asked me to stand at a designated spot on the floor and took my picture; then he asked me to turn to the right, toward the door, and took another picture.

I left the station. The parking cost 27 shekels. I put in 30 but the machine didn’t provide change. Numerous phone calls to the Interior Ministry’s Population Administration were met with refusal to give me the two inspectors’ names. We’re still wondering what the correct way is to enter the country.