Friday, June 29, 2007

Why are you here...please wait...welcome???

Finally arrived...after hours of travel and a quick stint in Kiev city proper. I can say that it's good to be back. I love this place, both '48 and '67, but nearly every interaction with '48 makes me feel uncomfortable. This all started when my flight on a foreign airline switched in Kiev to an El Al flight. Well, let's back up -- Kiev was a beautiful place. Much more modern than that xenophobic and paranoid reports by travelers online which I read in preparation. The train station is one of the largest I've ever seen in my life and as a result my original goal of traveling to Babi Yar ( the sight of the largest massacre of Jews at one single time ) was foiled by the fact that NOTHING is in English. Like many of my layovers, I got out - ate some local fare - viewed the local scenery - got back to the airport.

At the airport, I crossed through the gate where they check your ticket to see if your flight leaves soon enough. Immediately upon crossing I was approached by shabak (the israeli domestic intelligence) and an interrogation began. Flights to Israel require you to arrive three hours prior...the net result of which was three hours of interrogation. I'm not sure why this occurred exactly. Perhaps it's because I have visited the West Bank (although they would never mention the word "territories" in the interrogation for fear that I don't know such a place exists and they just confirmed it does). It is also perhaps because I don't have family in Israel. I think it is much more likely that my annoying walking-in-circles bored-out-of-my-mind at the airport got suspicion of the cameras. That and that fact that a very jovial American with a hiking backpack was on my flight. He was chatting up the only Palestinian on our flight and security approached the Palestinian and demanded ID and the ID of the American talking to him. This kid and I had bought the same flight path off the same website and they began his interrogation with questions as to whether he knew me.

Then begins the fun - can you imagine what idiocy is discussed in a three hour interrogation? I was discussing my favorite philosophers, the streets I've lived on, the food that my friends in Israel cook, what their political/religious beliefs are, and even about my "sister" (one of those 50% guesses they make and hope to strike-gold with).

Then it moved onto the strip search. As if out of a bad SNL comedy movie, the action of a man pulling a rubber glove over his hand and snapping it is apparently a shtick that creates fear/laughter worldwide (depending on which end of the glove you're taking). Then, my bags were spread out on three tables and combed over by a team of five idiots. I say idiots because whoever is assigned to bother an American student is clearly low on the pecking order -- that's not to say they aren't aspiring to be water-boarding Palestinians someday, so questions my answers to which they could not possibly understand were asked again and again. It turns out (imagine!) that there is a policy that you can't carry a laptop onto an airplane. As if this lie wasn't transparent enough, apparently the ban applies to the cord to plug in my camera, but not the camera itself. It also includes earphones...thanks guys.

All of this was packed up and to be mailed to me at my address in Tel Aviv. Sadly, all of my DVDs were taken, detained, or "disappeared" - police states generally lack a "lost & found". I can't imagine the intelligence will find Arrested Development or the Office very fun since I tend to think they're a particularly American brand of humor. The Battle of Algiers might be good food for thought if they take the time to watch the whole thing.

As you can imagine, one might have the urge to relieve their bladder at some point. A simple request that at the time merely meant "I have to go!!!" to me turned into a sort of surreal scene from a horrible movie. I was escorted to a bathroom in which huddled a fraternity of Borat-looking men, furiously smoking cigarettes in uniforms that appeared to be dulled by a combination of boredom, sunlight, and the fall of the Soviet Union. Sensing the opportunity to break our shared boredom, I pulled out a cigarette, but my personal guard rejected that advance.

To have a man stand next to you while you're urinating is one of those things that men are somewhat used to. The need to get back before the beginning of the next inning usually prevails to calm any discomfort. A man who had just strip searched you and now stood perpendicular to you looking at you is another experience altogether.

Apparently my preference for a window seat was ignored as well -- ok not just that, any of my preferences had gone out the window as I was reissued a ticket to sit next to the two other individuals who had been interrogated with me. VIP seating you might call it - if it weren't that we were sat in the back, with the Palestinian interogatee furthest from the aisle, and two large (but clearly bored) security guards seated behind us. The buffer of about five rows they placed between us and the rest of the flight really put the exclamation point on "welcome to Israel".

So now I'm here - finally got my computer and things. Tel Aviv is horribly hot and humid, Jerusalem is much better, Ramallah even cooler.

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