In my head and through conversations with others, I’ve written this post a thousand times.
Almost anyone who visits Israel knows to expect a relatively hard time at airport customs. Google the subject and you’ll find an abundance of information on preparing for the occasion, as well as many blog posts on the innumerable times when the process went terribly wrong. Generally, Israeli customs officers glimpse through your passport and ask a few questions about the purpose of your trip; then, you are finished and set free. But many people become subjected to extra measures taken in security’s name. I don’t want to downplay the diversity of ethnic/national categories from which the singled-out come, but the Internet will tell you very clearly: if you are Muslim or have a name that sounds Muslim (whatever that means), you’ll probably face much more trouble. Stay calm and just answer their questions, they say; if you’re here with good intentions, everything will be fine. If your passport has stamps from other Muslim or Arab countries, they’ll ask about that too—but just cooperate and you’ll be finished in no time.
For the majority, it actually is that simple. Take note: both Mark Rosenblum alone and previous Ibrahim Project trips have brought Muslim students to Israel, and they rarely faced difficulties entering the country. But too often, it results in horror stories that reveal the absurdity of the airport’s practices. Before our program began, I’d read stories of people who were subjected to hours of questioning, some even forced to open their email inboxes to ‘prove’ that they weren’t planning anything dubious. El Al Israel Airlines is also known for humiliating prospective passengers. I figured that I would be okay, though—after all, I was with a group of five other students and two other adults, my passport was empty except for unsuspicious visas from Oman and the U.A.E., and I am an American-born U.S. citizen. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not dangerous, and I figured the Israeli authorities would easily see that too. Boy, was I wrong.