I alluded to it offhandedly in a recent post on United catering out of Tel Aviv, but based upon the comments it drew I want to revisit the topic directly. I recently had an incredibly invasive security experience in Tel Aviv, so lengthy I almost missed my flight.
It is unlikely I’ll ever know exactly what triggered the alarm, but I’ll first describe what happened and then speculate why it did.
After stepping off my flight from Amman, I followed the “transit” signs, but was stopped by a uniformed soldier and told that the transit line was only for Israeli citizens. I was directed to passport control and waited about 20 minutes in line.
My interaction with the immigration agent was brief. He asked me how long I would stay in Israel, I said 90 minutes, and he handed me my migration card. Easy as that. I proceeded upstairs to check-in for my United flight.
The Check-In Interview
Everyone is interviewed by Israeli intelligence before approaching the check-in counter for their flight. A lady took my passport and began with a series of general questions about why I in Israel, how long I stayed, and what the purpose of my visit was.
When she found that I was merely transiting from Jordan, it seemed her suspicions were raised. Indeed, I doubt many people transit from Amman to San Francisco via Tel Aviv, but it sure made sense for me — I left Amman at 8:40p and was back to San Francisco by 5:30a the next morning.
She started asking details about my trip to Jordan. Next she started leafing through my passport and asked me about my occupation. Then she asked if I spoke Hebrew and Arabic.
She took my passport and walked away, conferring with a colleague behind her.
When she returned, she asked if I had any other forms of ID. I presented my driver’s license and she squinted at it and made a remark in Hebrew to a colleague now standing beside her. They giggled. I assume they were looking my teenage mug and remaking at how much I aged.
Trying to reduce the tension, I joked that the years had not been good to me.
The agents laughed and one said, “No, you look better today. Very handsome.”
But then, “Are you sure you don’t speak Hebrew? Do you have any other forms of ID?” I did not. She took my driver’s license away and conferred with a third colleague who appeared to be a supervisor. She returned and asked me again if I spoke Hebrew again.
Then she started asking questions about my education, business, and previous travels. She asked more detailed questions about Jordan and wanted to know if I had been to Israel before (as if she didn’t know…).
Last time I was in Israel (2009), I was stopped briefly at the border in Ben Gurion Airport when the agent found a Pakistan visa in my passport. I was also stopped again when returning from Palestinian-controlled territory because I had no Israeli stamp in my passport (Israel no longer stamps passports, but at the time they did unless you requested them not to).
Finally I was allowed to proceed. A yellow sticker with a barcode was placed on the back of my passport.
It was getting late and the United check-in agent handed me my boarding pass and instructed me to proceed immediately to security. I wasn’t worried: departure was still 45 minutes away.
Upon presentation of my boarding pass, I was directed to a special security line on the left. The first part of the security screening was like any other, though I waited in line about 10 minutes just to reach the front of the queue (of four people). Electronic devices were removed and shoes had to come off.
But then it got interesting. After proceeding through a full body scanner a security officer/intelligence agent walked over and asked me to point to my bags. He told me to take a seat and proceeded to pull out every item from both of my bags, scrupulously examining everything and performing at least a dozen Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) tests (swabbing articles then testing them for explosives).
Everything was taken out. Everything. Every envelope was looked in and even my two books were carefully leafed through. I was instructed to open my laptop and turn on my phone, but the contents were not searched.
Next, I was directed into a private room where a different agent performed a very invasive patdown, carefully handling every last inch of my body…
Finally, I was cleared to go…”You can re-pack your bags now”
It took several minutes just to do that.
I asked why I was singled out and was met with a shrug.
Why Did This Happen to Me?
I can think of four reasons why this happened to me. First, because I was transiting from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, an Arab nation. Though Israel is at peace with Jordan, my itinerary was admittedly a bit odd. Second, I booked the one-way ticket same-day. Amman to Tel Aviv was on a separate ticket from Tel Aviv to San Francisco to Burbank on United. Third, my travel history. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt, and Morocco. None of those stamps were in my current passport, but I assume Israeli officials had access to my travel history.
Finally, my work history. I’ve worked for the U.S. federal government, served in the U.S. military, and carried a high-level security clearance. On the one hand, you’d think that would work in my favor, but I can see why that would also arouse suspicion in the convoluted world of espionage, even between allies.
Some may argue that horrific is an unfair description. Others will say my experience could have been much worse. I think horrific is perfectly reasonable, but you’ll notice I describe merely my experience without casting any judgment on the Israeli security apparatus that undeniably keeps flyers out of Israel very safe. To me, it was horrific, because I was treated like a criminal. Whether you think my experience was reasonable or not, being interrogated then invasively searched is objectively a pretty horrific experience. You’ll have to take my word on that if you have never been subjected to such an experience.
We hear calls from time to time for Israeli-style security in the USA. It will never happen because of the sheer size of major airports in the USA. Israel has one international airport with a limited numbers of flights: what Israel does could never occur in the USA without bringing travel to a complete bottleneck.
Edward Snowden exposed an NSA computer system called XKeyscore that acts as essentially an advanced search engine on anyone in the world. Surely the Israelis, who share so much intelligence and intelligence systems with the USA, have something like this. If they pulled up my work history, education history, internet searches, and phone records they should see that I’m really not a threat to anyone.
But one thing is certain: it seems that nothing is left to chance when it comes to Israeli security. It seems I was subjected to the “just in case” search…
This is less invasive than I expected.
it’s like the typical SSSS search in the U.S.
With the interrogation?
Yes, exactly my thoughts. That’s how it feels when I get SSSS.
You say it will never happen in the USA. I have news for you! It happens!
My son was subjected to a ‘horrific’ experience at LA Airport and finally refuse entry to USA. He was humiliated and also treated like a criminal. He is a mature man with a perfectly good reason for entering USA – but was treated very very badly.
What was his nationality? What was the reason ultimately given for his refusal?
He was born in UK, immigrated to Israel and has lived in Mexico for the last 7 years .
I am only saying that whatever the reason for refusing him entry (and he is certainly not a terrorist) there is no
excuse for treating ing him like a criminal, shouting at him and putting him in a detention cell and escorting him to a plane out of the country.
Address him as a human being and explain what is going on is not a lot to expect.
Just returned from Israel yesterday, my experience is just a copy of yours.
They even went through my long hair to see if I have any hidden things in my hair.
I am a British Muslim, only visited Saudi for hajj and Cairo for tourism.
I have no idea what triggers them to do it on me.
The one time I got the dreaded SSSS, my bag was swabbed inside and out, but nothing unpacked, and wasn’t asked a single question. Maybe I got lucky?
Nothing has changed since Matthew’s visit in 2017. I’m a trustee of a children with disability charity working in the West Bank but based in the UK and every time I visit to check on the centres we operate for children in the refugee camps, I am subjected to the kind of invasive treatment as described. When you are in the interrogation area (and why, if leaving Israel, not arriving into Israel?), and go through the unnecessary cold questioning which does make you feel like a criminal, a barcode sticker is put on the back of your passport which denotes how many times you’ll be sent to another queue and then to another for further invasive inspection and with no discussion allowed as to why. The worst was for British Muslim women who were subjected to varying degrees of humiliating body searches which had them in tears. And staff just stared stonily at them. When I arrived back in the UK, I found that my suitcase, which I had checked in after a very lengthy queuing system, had been broken into and one of the Israeli locks, not my own, put on the suitcase and which I had no key to open it with. This outrageous, draconian way to treating visitors to Israel, whether enroute to the West Bank or not, is surely beyond any acceptable international law. Or common humanity. I am fortunate that I can rise above it at the time, but, of course, it bothers me that this is the norm, not the exception. I am a charity worker and have the credentials to prove it but the Israelis do take a great dislike to those who help Palestinians in their ever-shrinking territory thanks to over 100 illegal settlements and illegal roads for the settlers, not the Palestinians on their own land. I will continue to visit the West Bank and suffer this humiliation because it’s worth it in the long run, however unacceptable. I have always travelled extensively throughout the world and this is by far the worst treatment to travellers, either holiday makers or on business.
So you’ve explained here EXACTLY why you were subject to additional screening: military background, travel in enemy nations, stopover in a nation with security issues (Jordan), and a last minute one way international ticket. Your description of this experience as horrific is histrionic and frankly, there actually are fliers subject to borderline horrific security procedures at Ben Gurion – so your lack of awareness is especially stark. And you know what would be more horrific than your experience? Your flight exploding. Or getting hijacked. Both of which are real possibilities out of Ben Gurion. You met the profile which they must do additional screening on to prevent that. Just because you are white, doesn’t mean you don’t qualify.
Let’s be fair, I don’t think Matthew is complaining, just describing the process. The sensational title is just for attracting readers . . .
I would characterize it as “draconian” but not really “horrific”. Israel has a true national security concern, so I would say it’s very justified for the extra (or “extreme”) scrutiny they place on most pax.
I had US-born US-educated Arabic friends (who never lived anywhere outside of the US) and was forced to 100% naked body search inside a private room at TLV airport. Yours is mild compared to what he had to go through.
I experience this each time at TLV. My wife works for a company headquartered in Tel Aviv and I have tagged along for at least a week each time. Thought this was the norm haha.
If its too good to be true, its probably a lie. Your history maybe too good to be true, thus you are probably a spy. Better safe than sorry, its what they thinking maybe….
Comment from Facebook “Sothe author explained here inadvertently EXACTLY why they were subject to additional screening: military background, travel in enemy nations, stopover in a nation with security issues (Jordan), and a last minute one way international ticket. The description of this experience as horrific is histrionic and frankly, there actually are fliers subject to borderline horrific security procedures at Ben Gurion – so the lack of awareness is especially stark. And you know what would be more horrific than this experience? The flight exploding. Or getting hijacked. Both of which are real possibilities out of Ben Gurion. This blogger met the profile which they must do additional screening on to prevent that from occurring or even having an elevated risk of occurring. Just because you are white, doesn’t mean you don’t qualify based on the complex profiling they use.”
I have had a similar experience with easy entry into Israel but painful exit. I have often wondered why they do not do the reverse. Why are they so concerned about what people are taking out of the country, rather than taking in? In many countries you have to screen your bags to enter the country, but Israel doesn’t even do this (except for the shambolic seeming security check on departure to Tel Aviv in the US). It seems they may take very seriously the threat of espionage as distinct from the terrorist threat. Or perhaps since guns are so widely around with everyone on military reserve in Israel, perhaps they really are worried about terrorism – I’m curious if others have insights on this.
That’s an interesting point. I took would think the pain would be inflicted on inbound passengers, not departing passengers.
This happened to me as well on my way out, I thought they going lock me up and throw away the key. I was horrified. The whole cenario of gigling at my photo calling a supervisor…and im only a visitor from South Africa I was so relieved to be back home
Oh come on, people. Think a little.
If you’re in Israel, you can go relatively unhindered to Jordan, the West Bank and of course to Arab towns in Israel proper. While there is some security going back into Israel from the former two, you could’ve done all kinds of crazy sh1t while being there.
They’re worried about a planejacking or worse when you leave, that’s why. Going in they scan your luggage carefully and otherwise rely on on-the-ground security to protect their citizens.
Matthew, your article is fair, but I take issue with your title. The word ‘horrific’, which, unlike your article, is judgemental ( not to say “loaded”. Adjectives like ‘strict’, ‘severe’, ‘invasive’, ‘thorough’, ‘lengthy’, used singly or in combination, would have been much more appropriate.
It’s simply about what’s feasible. Extensive security checks are required in both ends, but it’s easier for the Israeli government to have them on Israeli soil. Also, there are many “behind the scenes” security procedures happening in Israel-bound departures around the world by El-Al crew (even on non-LY flights) or by government agents. The most visible one is that most of these flights depart from the farthest gate in the terminal or from another terminal.
Same experience as Nate—for me and almost everyone I know.
I find that arriving in Israel is always pretty smooth, but leaving is a royal pain in the ass, even though I’m presumably about as “low-risk” as they come: American, speaks decent Hebrew, has lots of work and personal contacts in Israel, has been to Israel a zillion times.
I truly don’t understand why Israel makes the departure process so slow, unpredictable, and intrusive in terms of security. (If you fly *to* Israel on El Al, you’ll get just about the same level of intrusive security on the way in… which is in my mind a very good reason not to fly El Al.)
As others have said, what are the chances that someone who’s been admitted into Israel, and not raised any suspicions during their stay, is going to commit a terrorist act on their *way out*? It’s just kind of nuts, and it’s a stupid-ass PR move to leave people with a very bad taste in their mouth on their way out after what may have been an enjoyable trip.
I’ve gotten the “search through every item in my carry-on” treatment a couple times, but never the “strip search.” I’m really sorry you had to go through that. 🙁
Horrific? Not even close. Put your big boy pants on and quit whinging.
They probably did all of this because they know you’re a chronic complainer and fussbudget.
“Third, my travel history. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt, and Morocco.”
I think that’s the issue right there. When Iran and Lebanon are involved, Israel isn’t going to mess around. Combined with your odd itinerary, you probably set off multiple red flags in the profiling system.
Don’t think it’s horrific. Israelis only have to be wrong once for bad things to happen. You admit your travel raised multiple red flags. You were treated professionally, so nothing to complain about.
Hate to say it but if you don’t like this, then don’t go to Israel. They have their reasons just as you have for going to all those Middle East hot spots .
Zero sympathy from me.
To be clear, I’m not looking for sympathy from anyone and not even complaining, just describing.
Wouldn’t you also say that treating people with unnecessary suspicion is a big turn-off to travelers?
Israel’s security/immigration/tourism officials are shooting themselves in the foot, PR-wise, with this kind of treatment.
I’ve traveled to ~20 countries, including a couple that aren’t on great terms with the USA, and Israel is the only one where I’ve experienced a degree of the groundless suspicion and humiliation that Matthew describes at the airport. (Despite being a frequent traveler to Israel, and low-risk by the criteria they’re well-known to consider.)
I had similar experience and yes I won’t fly to Israel ever again. This is unwelcoming contry to the mere tourists, so it’s the state’s choice. I will spend my money somewhere else.
Apparently that is typical for Tel Aviv to Jordan. A friend from Southern US in her early 30s–an elementary school teacher with no military or gov’t background–spent a few days in Tel Aviv during her Christmas break and was going to Jordan to go to Petra. No problem entering Israel. When she said in her exit interview that she was going to Jordan she was pulled from line and sent to a room to wait 1 hr with as she described “thugs in handcuffs.”. After waiting they interviewed her going through her travel history back to HIGH SCHOOL. They were interested in the fact she went to Marrakech, Morocco last year for a week’s vacation. They kept asking if she knew men there–no. They kept going on and on about who did she meet there–no-one, she and a few girl friends (including me) went for a week and did tourist stuff. Then did she know anyone there–no. Did she buy drugs there–no, she didn’t even get alcohol in the Medina. When she explained a friend was meeting her at the Tel Aviv airport so they could fly to Jordan they wanted to know who and asked what flight her friend was on. Unfortunately her friend (a 28 year old American girl) was flying in from Malaysia (where she had been touring) and since Israel and Malaysia have HUGE political issues, the situation escalated. They detained my friend 2 hrs until the other girl landed then collected and detained her. You got lucky, they took her phone and made her log on to Facebook and they read her profile and searched her photos and comments. They searched searched their bags twice. My friend kept asking why and if could she speak to someone from US embassy and nothing happened. Their search was more than an invasive pat down. I travel all over the world–Myanmar, India, etc. and invasive pat downs don’t bother me…it isn’t personal. But she was asked to take all clothes off except panties including bra. All in all it was about 5 hrs. They missed their flights. And they wouldn’t let them leave with out signing something written in Hebrew. I kept asking why didn’t she refuse and she said they were told they would be sent on the next flight back to US. Apparently if you have a stamp in your passport they don’t like….all hell breaks loose.
Omg!!! This is sad tho….why are they making it scary for people to visit Isreal??? I mean, Isreal spends $$ promoting tourism but wanna treat folks in an unwelcoming way…not an inviting experience imho
They spent $$ on collecting private and personal information. It’s a trap.
Just spoke to my daughter she and her girlfriend were stopped for three hours disrespected assaulted searched down to their panties accused to carry explosives left them frighten and in tears . It is discussing and frightening . They were at their mercy with no way out …. is there anything that can be done to stop this treatment toward two inicent young ladies ??? Anyone to call ? Write to ??? I’m in tears and so angry how can you help but stereotyping ????
Unfortunately, I’ve heard of multiple cases of women in particular being treated this way by Israel airport authorities.
I don’t understand why Israel does this. It’s humiliating, frightening, makes them look bad, and there’s no rational basis I can understand for it.
You love a click-bait headline don’t you?
Even in the best case scenario, knowing that this is all a possibility at TLV, one really have to arrive early. And what’s happened to me twice (once with United, once with Brussels) is that folks start lining up for the check-in security interview before the airline’s check-in staff has even arrived. The result is that you stand around or sit on the floor in the area between the interview desk and the check-in desk until the airline staff sets up shop. Not fun.
you should have shared a video of the pat down :P..
Very sorry to hear your experience…avoid TLV in future
Departing Tel Aviv probably involves the most intensive security screenings than any other airport. Flying with El Al probably involves even more security. One time when I was departing out of Toronto-Pearson on Air Canada, out my window I saw an El Al 767 taxiing, being followed by a police car. I noticed this at Frankfurt Airport as well. Another time when I was plane spotting at Toronto, a few minutes before the El Al flight was about to arrive a white van parked near the runway and two men got out, scanned the area and once the plane landed, they got back into their van and left. At least you can be sure you are extremely safe whenever flying out of Tel Aviv or flying with El Al.
This is why I’ve only flown on El Al once.
I don’t $#@*ing want Israel-level invasive airport security, and I don’t think anyone else should either.
If there were a convenient way to *leave* Israel without going through Israel-level invasive airport security, I would do that too. But there isn’t.
Let’s be honest. That type of security protocol would never happen in the United States because the people who are hired to work in airports here aren’t the smartest people in the world nor do many speak acceptable English to communicate nor lack the critical thinking skills to recognize someone who could cause harm on a flight.
I was made aware of the techniques of the security during my last trip to Israel. I was travelling with my partner who was born in Syria, but has an German passport. Nevertheless we ended up in 4 hours of interrogation and waiting time at the airport. It got really scary to an degree i almost wanted to tell them, forget the entry, we will travel back. No one was giving us any insights nor explanations. The most funny part was when my partners origin was put into question, they seriously told him that his accent was not at all from Damascus. We met folks who were in the waiting room for 9 hours. I learned that especially people with arab backgrounds, solo women travellers are subject to this special treatment. On our return, i got prepared for the worst, but actually this was smoother than i thought. We were once again interrogated at this time in front of the gate. You get screened by the agent, and will receive an sticker from 1-6. If you get a 5 or 6, forget about any Duty Free shopping or an last hummus snack, you wont have the time, and there is a chance you will loose your flight. They do very strict searches of you and your luggage if you got a bad screening. We received an 3. so I assume our ordeal from the start safed us some of the efforts they usually perform. We met one girl scout who was on a tour, and went home apart from her group. She got an 6 screening, and hardly made it to the plane. She told me that they had searched her strip naked and many ,many questions were asked about her itinerary.
Ah, it seems not at all surprising that you encountered additional extensive security screening based on your self-described details. If you want to characterize that as a “horror story” as you have, then I think you may be more tone deaf and unaware of your privilege than one might have guessed.
Just imagine if you hadn’t been white or American and how the Israeli authorities might have been even more cautious. Much more challenging.
Just imagine if you hadn’t been white and were dealing with American police in the USA. That could be a true horror story.
Please check the hyperbole and click bait headlines. Thanks.
Israel has more than one international airport, in fact 3. Should probably correct that.
One major airport, key word major.
Just FYI- you wrote that everyone who goes through border control is intirigated by Israeli intelligence. That is simply not true. They are just civilans work for a security company. I’m afraid you’ve seen to many movies. They do not know your search history, what security clearance you have etc. They have guidelines that they follow and that’s it.
What guidelines? So these are clerks like the TSA who can make life a living nightmare for you based upon, what, their mood? What kind of education and training do they receive?
Extensive and thorough education. All of them have been in the military for a lengthy period of time, too, being educated in spotting threats on the fly.
It’s really, really rich for someone who comes from the country of TSA (most of whom speak worse English than Israeli security and have almost no training), CBP (see previous comment), NSA (spying on all of us) and CIA (running secret torture prisons on European soil, against our laws) to complain about Israeli security’s training.
Perspective, my god.
Who “complained” about training?
The training for TLV security is very extensive it is nothing like the TSA minimum wage drones. These are often college grads or otherwise well educated individuals who have been extensively trained to ask questions, observe responses, very similar to experienced FBI agents. The questions and protocols are based on years of observation. Yes, your travel history will cause an initial red flag, but where you go from there depends on your answers and the protocols.
Pretty normal for TLV. I wish more airports took security so seriously. I’m always pleased to see the airports in Bucharest and Sofia (major destinations for Israelis) taking security almost as seriously as in Israel. It makes you realize what a joke it is in other countries.
This fairly accurately describes my exit from TVL years ago. Breezed in, but leaving was subjected to 3 teams of 2 interrogators each, asking me why I was there, who I saw, what I did, why I didn’t get a stamp (that was when you had to ask that the stamp not be placed), Then the teams compared my answers amongst themselves. One of them, upon finding out I was a female in a technical field, asked me why my company sent me and not someone “more technical”. I’m surprised they even let me on the flight when I indignantly replied “I AM more technical”. Back then the theory was, as a female traveling alone, I could be swayed to nefarious acts by a suave Arab. Quite insulting.
Solo women around suspicion due to the “Hindawi affair” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindawi_affair
Not for nothing they’re rated the safest airport in the world. And let’s face it the experience you went through is the exception… not the norm!
I travel through TLV countless times per year and have never gone through an experience to the extent that you describe and I am no Israeli citizen.
I personally disagree with your reasoning about implementing Israeli style security in the US. Israel may have some so called ‘controversial’ screening policies but if that’s what keeps it safe than sorry be it! Wether it’s racial profiling or whatever else it is that makes it a safer airport, political correctness can go out the window!
I flew through Ben Gurion two weeks ago. This is how they do it. I am not surprised by what happened to you. Several members of my tour group had the same thing happen to them. They take zero chances there…They can’t afford to. But the difference there it was real, not the security theater nonsense the TSA does in the US. If you want to fly through Israel, assume an intense grilling and that your bags will be taken apart.
Area you sure you are a frequent flyer? I’m wondering how you can post something like this, for something as normal as flying.
Perhaps not, only 200K miles per year and nearly 2MN miles the last decade. Maybe I just need to get out more…
Hey Matt –
I get that what you went through can be annoying and even downright intimidating, but Israel has very good reason to do this. There are credible, active threats against Israel and its citizens. As you know, it’s a small country – they don’t have the luxury of size that America has.
That being said, you might be interested to know this is also how America treats non-citizens frequently. I’m a Northern European, frequently traveling to the States for business and pleasure. I’ve had to:
– Explain the details of my break-up to a CBP officer, including answering if “it’s normal for gay people to sleep with their ex-boyfriends” (I don’t know, btw.)
– Literally having my underwear shoved up into my rear, bottom … uh, cavity … during a very public and very thorough pat-down.
– Answering why I had served in my country’s army “you like war or something?” (no, but I like freedoms and I have friends who died for YOUR country in YOUR country’s wars, mr. CBP officer – show me some goddamned respect)
At least the Israelis are professional, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of CBP or TSA officers. And the giggling was most probably because they think you’re handsome.
Thank you for your comment. I agree with your main point about the overall professionalism of US vs. Israeli security officers.
If Israel did not do these measures there would be planes blowing up and lives destroyed.
A few hours of inconvenience does not trump the right of people to fly safely in and out of Israel.
the RUBDOWN of all body parts is a horrific experience !! anywhere in the world including the US airports !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! not a fan of it…..
This happened to me. They asked me if i was circumcized and made me pull down my pants. When they took out the magnifying glass to confirm it becamw truly humiliating.
They needed a magnifying glass to find your dick ???
Ok a joker here, but I felt compelled to answer back on this in case someone is idiotic enough to not realise that post was a joke and actually worry about this as you never know what some people may believe. This is a serious article, so let me remind you all tha Muslims and the vast majority of Americans and of course Jews are all curcumsized so this check does NOT happen at TLV… Funny post though and made me laugh…
The pat down that I received departing from TLV last week reminded me of a frisking that I got from my girlfriend when I was 16 ..
We were just flying from Singapore (In the A380 Suites) to JFK with a stopover in Frankfurt presumably to change crews and refuel. At FRA were asked to unload everything out of our carryons at the checkpoint, and at the gate again. Both were triggered by someone who just “felt like it,” as they did not look at our passport, they were armed policemen wandering in the terminal.
I am you average caucasian senior citizen. Overweight, thinning hair. Polite to a fault.
Eventually, the Singapore Airlines gate agent intervened,demanding we both be released so we could board the plane.
My point? This crap, in variable levels happens everywhere.
More importantly. Avoid Frankfurt Airport at all cost.
Matthew, with your history with DoD and having had clearance, did you have any apprehensions about traveling to places like Iran, Iraq, Russia?
No, not really. I prefer to live in blissful ignorance. 😉
That’t not horrific – that’s normal for people transiting TLV with passport stamps from nations with significant Muslim populations. Same thing happened to my co-worker who had a few stamps from Eqypt, UAE, Kazakhstan, etc. Yes, it’s an extreme inconvenience, time-consuming and extremely invasive, But it is not what happens to the vast majority of travelers at TLV and is based on very specific criteria. Unfortunately this is a country that is threatened with destruction on a daily basis, so they have higher security than most. At least the criteria are rational, as opposed the nonsensical protocols used by the TSA. Quite honestly I was more annoyed with German security when transiting FRA last month. The guy took everything out of my bag (he did this for every traveler) before I even got to the xray machine. Complete waste of time and confiscated a 120ml saline container that had been through hundreds of flights. And this was after arrival from USA.
I had a similar experience when departing Tel Aviv a couple of years ago. I described it as an interrogation, slightly invasive but overall interesting. But in no way would I describe it as horrific. I was traveling on business for a couple of weeks in Israel and Turkey. After a weekend in Israel I had a flight out to Istanbul. The only issue there, which annoyed me far more than the interrogation on the later flight, was them making me dump most of the contents out of my carry-on and after thoroughly explaining what my gallon size plastic bag of whey protein powder was – they dumped it. Two weeks of servings. Sigh. Ben Gurion, the only airport I’ve ever had issues with carrying whey protein – and I’d say I’m well traveled internationally. Spent a week in Turkey then back to Israel and on my departing flight back to the U.S. ,my host prepared a letter for me speaking on my behalf – to be handed to Israeli security at Ben Gurion. I was thinking I’d skate through. Instead, I was pulled from the line and the security personnel held my passport and interrogated me for over an hour. She made me show her photos in my two cell phones and I had to boot up my laptop and show her work files and explain to her the work I do and why I have to travel so much. She asked me detailed questions about my two week itinerary in Turkey and Israel. A few times she asked my departure time even though she had my passport and ticket in hand. By the time she decided she was finished with me my flight was to begin boarding. She escorted me to the counter and then through security to get me to my gate. By the end of it all – she was far more informed about my job duties than my own family. Ha She was at least pleasant and professional. I arrived at the airport at least 3.5 hours in advance – just in case – and the letter didn’t help. (or maybe it did) I’m American, Hispanic ethnicity and traveled alone for the most part, with my passport stamped from several countries/continents. Most people in line went through just fine with no interrogation from what I could see. I definitely felt singled out. But in the end, no big deal. I’ll be visiting again early next year.
I had the same treatment in TLV with only 2 UAE stamps in my passport, although one of them was in-out on the same day which probably raised suspicion. That same trip i also flew to/from Eilat and was met with the exact same questions and bag-emptying routine for both domestic flights. Eilat to TLV took 60 min to question me and search my bag which caused me to miss my flight and they were so kind as to rebook me on a flight to the downtown airport (which i didn’t even know existed)… even though i was connecting onward to PHL with US Airways on a separate ticket. The 2 people i was traveling with received none of the above treatment which made it more fun for them to watch.
The El Al flights out of Charles de Gaulle are guarded by a TANK.
Bare necessities. The reality os Israel and us Jewish people worldwide. However, Israel’s worth it. Glad you’ve visited. Amazing place.
Matthew, found your article as I was searching to understand if my own experience was unusual. Sadly it sounds like there is a lot of inefficiency and lack of knowledge of the reality many individuals do travel extensively for legitimate jobs. I don’t mind rigor but I do find pause for illogical processes. I tried to show a print out of my day to day itinerary from my Secretary and they wouldn’t listen. Seems humans will only believe what they want and assume you are a criminal without proof. Also makes me wonder if they screen this many “false positives” then how are they catching the true threats?
Matthew, great post indeed, thanks for the traveling details. But in my humble opinion, it really surprises me to read this coming from a highly educated and self-awareness individual with such an elite security training background.
The reasons you were subjected to secondary screening were clearly denoted by yourself in 4 detailed ways.
The fifth might include any recent emotional hardship, betrayal, harassement, or tormenting experience in which you may simple blame Israel or their people and decide to wage Jihad due to any of the aforementioned reasons or even as much as a recent divorced, job dismissal, or suffered a recent financial hardship due to Israeli culture, influence, entities or individuals.
As far as the U.S. goes TSA wants some uncertainty in the process.
“We have by design inserted unpredictability into our processes” so that “our adversary” can’t predict exactly what will happen at checkpoints.” quoted by Lee Kair of TSA.
Matthew I have the same story from ben gurion airport. I was in Israel in 1998 for a full year. I was traveling through Israel and went to Egypt for a couple weeks (dahab) . While in Israel I worked on a kibbutz for 3 months which was stamped in my passport. When I was leaving israel I showed up at the airport a couple hours early and I walked into the airport with my backpackers bag on my back and just took a seat right inside the doors. After sitting there for 20 minutes an Israeli soldier came up to me and asked me to follow him. They took my bag and placed it on a plexiglass type of table and just ripped it apart. Just like you I was searched like a criminal. I got so nervous that i had to go to the bathroom. I was told not to flush the toilet when I was finished. They searched the toilet when I was finished and checked me internally. And yes I mean a finger where the sun doesn’t shine. After repeated attempts to ask me where the drugs were. I was personally escorted by a Israeli soldier holding a long gun up the escalator where they just stood by me until my flight arrived.
Matthew the moral to the story is I read your story and in a weird way made me feel better that someone knows how I felt that day. I was a scared 18 year old kid from Pittsburgh who was alone and afraid. 19 years later I still get the chills thinking about it.
Same thing happened to me recently. I almost missed my flight that morning too, just because I was held at the security for so long! I only went for a two-week vacation in Israel, visited a friend, and went to the different Holy sites. The whole vacation could have been perfect except when on my flight going back to Vancouver, I was also repeatedly interrogated and searched, and they opened everything up including the boxes and packages of sweets I bought. I was also told to remove my hoodie and I was so cold sitting in the corner away from all my stuff, wearing only a thin undershirt. They even talked to each other in Hebrew which I didnt understand and called someone describing whAt I was wearing that time. After several scanning/swabbing or searching and repeated Xrays, they took some of my cosmetics although they are within the allowed limit, and some of them are in powder form. Then they told me I can go but my stuff is a mess and i had to put everything back inside my bag hurriedly so I can make it to my flight. I don’t see any reason why it happened to me, except that maybe because my name is Fatima. I was asked many times about the origin of my name. I do not have however an Arabic ancestry and I am from a family of Christians. I genuinely respect all religions and backgrounds, but I do not think it is fair to treat someone like a criminal or suspect someone to do something dangerous just because of a person’s name. I was traumatized by this experience and kept thinking about how I felt humiliated and scared at the same time, and I don’t think I’ll visit Israel again.
I’m sorry to hear that you feel humiliated but DONT take it personally. It’s not whether you were a terrorist, they don’t know you at all, THATS why you were singled but it’s whether you may have been used by someone else unknowingly. You personally were not singled out, with a name like Fatima, statistically you would be of Arab ancestry so they would have been covering every possible angle to make sure safety all round is a priority and you have not unfortunately been used, or breached in some way by an actual terrorist. Funnily enough now that they do know who you are (security wise), you will probably find it a breeze on a second journey ssl don’t let that put you off. In fact, probabaly a second (undoubtably easier) visit would allow you to get over the feeelings you must still feel from this, as you will see and feel the difference on a second (much easier) visit now, and see how not personal it ever was… it will allow you to laugh it off and feel more confident again, so don’t let it stop you.
I go through this every time, every single time, because I wear hijab, I live in Jerusalem but currently studying abroad, so I visit my family every time I have a break. Before entering the airport compound, our car gets pulled away among tens of them which don’t get stopped, because I wear hijab, and thus I am an Arab, get thoroughly searched and then move on.
At the security check I am always treated as a potential Bomber, and at the interrogation once they know that I live in an Arabic neighborhood in Jerusalem I immediately get a yellow stamp with number 6 at the beginning, because people are classified into six different groups, and I belong to the most suspicious ones. I never enter the full body scan because I will be patted down anyway, so I Consider this as a way of challenging them, I am not scared of them, I just watch how pathetic and racist they are,sometimes laughing with sarcasm, letting people either go with easy to almost no check up, or with almost criminal accused check ups because of appearance, religion, ethnicity or whatever..
Sorry for everyone
Israelis (guards) are uneducated & very unprofessional
Thy don’t really know how to find crime & they tough pick on the wrong person
(Sometimes very bad)
Discrimination does not exist in Israel
Actually they are VERY educated and they may seem like they don’t know what they are doing and are unprofessional, but they know exactly who to target and who not to. out of a plane of 300 people they may let 290 get through relatively quickly but will take no chances at all when any red flags appear. The professionalism and train8ng is actually what gives them an edge over the terrorists and also allows them to allow as many people as possible to enter quickly. Sorry to say this, but if you have a stamp with Iran in it and you come to TLV you WILL be questioned, but let in to enjoy a good safe time once they have checked out you are safe. But if you had an Israel stamp and went to Iran you would probabaly be jailed, tortured, and possibly be killed as a spy. I wonder which people are more ‘professional’…
Incorrect. They use the screening process as a means to interrogate groups they dislike. None of the questions had anything to do with security and if they were truly interested in security, they’d invest in better equipment.
why you are lying??? Many people who visited israel before can also travel to Iran. Like as Israel they probably ask some more questions but no jails and no tortured. I am Iranian and I am totally sure what I’m saying. Just don’t talk when you don’t know anything.
Um I have 1 issue with your story, Israeli airport security as far as everything i’ve read states you don’t take your shoes off for security, hence the profiling and all the other security, the U.S as far as I’m aware of is the only country to have this sort of thing. I don’t doubt your story i’ve just never heard of shoes coming off for Israeli security.
Not sure about what normally happens, but my shoes came off.
This headline is clearly clickbait. Horrific should be used for a bomb going off or a terrorist incident, but I get why Matthew used it. And yes, If they feel you need to take your shoes off they will ask you too but the6 won’t If your not suspected. Millions of people a year go to visit Israel or travel through it, and a new international airport is soon ready due to the influx of people. Ultimately it is one of the safest (and nicest) places on earth to be in once in, and they need to keep it this way. Look at Egypt and Sinai, after some security breaches, a downed plane a couple of tourist hotels bombed, the whole tourism industry in Egypt is now dead for years. Look, being interrogated happens to everyone in and out of TLV so just give more time if it’s a transit. However, a full on search will only happen if you could possibly be a real danger, most people go through security in minutes, and if you are selected there is good reason and the Israeli authorities do try to minimise the ‘scaryyness’. For instance as a woman you will get checked by women whenever possible. Look, you can’t take it personally, sometimes after the first minute they know YOU would never be a terrorist, and your off without any extra problems, but they must check out first if you have been ‘used’ by someone else as that’s the way security has been mostly broken in the past. Think about it, it’s all done for YOUR security. Without going into too much background, the simple fact is that unfortunately millions of Arabs and other Muslims in various un-westernised countries have been indoctrinated to hate Israel from a very early age even if they have never met a Palestinian or an Israeli, usually by governments who find it very useful to blame their own internal issues on an easy target, a third party, and Israel is the perfect use. Israel surviving and the continuation of the Palestinian issue is actually preferred to peace by many Arab dictators (unlike what they say) as it gives them an excellent reason to keep their people unified against someone else so people do not uprise against them and they stay in power. Anything goes wrong internally, oh it’s expansionist israel to blame etc and that keeps Arabs having a common enemy. However it’s changing now and Arab governments know that soon with the power of the internet this won’t work so they are starting to use other reasons and are getting closer to Israel as they know it’s better to be friends with Israel then enemies with them. So hopefully one day none of this will be nessacary, but it won’t be like this for a long time considering there are a billion and a half Muslims in the world with the majority of them still brainwashed. It’s simple actually, once anyone has travelled to any ‘suspect’ places, Israeli security do need to figure out if ‘you’ may have been breached, even accidently or unintentionally, and the only way to do it is to learn all about you and watch your body language for the signs. Yes, it may feels like an interrogation, but they don’t give 2 monkeys about you or your life or who your fr8ends with, so don’t take it personally, they just want to see if you are ‘safe’ enough for coming in and out without it affecting the safety of others or the mass tourist trade.
I just had a horrific airport experience at Ben Gurion yesterday. I was traveling home, back to Los Angeles and they gave me a 6 because my maiden name is of Iranian (muslim) origin. My Dad was born in Tehran, but emigrated to the States when he was 11 years old. I have never been to Iran and I am not religious. Still, the name was enough to route me through the “special” screening where they physically assaulted me. They put me through a metal detector, full x-ray body scanned me TWICE. Ran their hands over my body twice in public, and then took me behind a curtained space where they made me pull down my pants and violated me with their hands and a metal detector.
This is absolutely shameful.
Matthew, not one thing you described came across as “horrific” or “a living nightmare”. The hyperbole totally undermines your story. You were subjected to serious security procedures. You were transiting through Israel…what did you expect? Sometimes its just the luck of the draw…a random thing which is very much part of the security equation. My god! Im embarrassed for you. And you’re a travel writer?
Thank you for expressing your opinion.
What melodramatism. A level 5 sticker on your passport is almost universal (almost all non-Israeli passengers get it). It doesn’t mean anything.
Shall I repeat again – the majority of passengers get a level 5 sticker.
Given the discussion is still ongoing; I’ve had far worse at LHR and NRT. Back in 2004 when the ZAR crashed, I took advantage of the OneWorld RTW bargain and booked a six-continent F ticket. Made for some crazy routings. Further, I was going to GRU for business and found it cheaper to book DFW-GRU-MIA-LHR-DFW than DFW-GRU-DFW. So, I would spend a weekend in London every month or so for about six months.
NRT: The routing was DFW-LHR-JNB-HKG-NRT with the RTW travel starting in Jo’burg. I can only guess that the authorities in Tokyo were wondering what the hell an American was doing flying to Tokyo via London and South Africa. Regardless, I was pulled aside at immigration, my bags produced, and every item examined in detail, even down to verification that my medications were what the labels on the bottle purported them to be, cross-checking them against a Physicians Desk Reference. I was repeatedly asked the purpose of my travel and explaining the concept of a mileage run/vacation was quite difficult. Hour and a half later, I was free to go.
LHR: On the third of six trips through London I was approached just after passing the Fast Track counter and politely asked to “please follow me” by a gent who wasn’t wearing a uniform but displayed credentials when he approached me. Can’t recall what agency for the life of me. Regardless, I followed him into the bowels of LHR into an area that was clearly set up for interviews and baggage searches. I was shown into a room where my luggage was waiting for me and sat at a table as another agent went through my bags. Given I was midway through a trip and had been in Brazil during their summer, I felt for the guy. For three hours, I was grilled on my business, my travel patterns, why I would fly the route I was flying, what I did for a living, where I was from, asked any of sixty different ways over and over and over again. At some point, the agent said “OK, you’re free to go, thank you.” I asked if I should start planning more time into the schedule for similar interviews going forward and was told “I’m afraid s0.” Amazingly though, it never happened again.
Reason for the stories? Both are far more invasive than what you experienced at TLV. TLV is just much more invasive on the regular and I accept that as a matter of course. Its been that way since I was a kid in the ’80s. Think about it; what security agent wants to go through sixty teenagers’ bags full of dirty clothes voluntarily?
I am really glad I found this discussion, as I have just experienced this and was looking for other travellers’ experience. I am white European with no suspicious background (as far I know). My only sin, or at least I think so, is a Turkish boyfriend, and a couple of Turkish stamps in my passport. We are currently in long distance relationship, but we enjoy travelling together. In Ben Gurion airport they knew this, as I had to explain all this at the arrival. From all I’ve read here so far I understand why I got a 6 sticker (even though I didn’t know that Turkey is considered dangerous – anyone knows anything about this??), but my boyfriend got 5, and he didn’t experience anything intimidating during the security check, unlike me. Any opinions about this?
For reasons I don’t fully understand, solo female travelers who are in Israel for reasons other than work are frequently singled out for humiliating strip searches at Ben Gurion airport.
I’ve heard way too many anecdotes about it.
it could be because Israel itself has historically used solo girls to charm nazeees out from south america, so they undertsand their capability.
Oh sweet white people are at it again. Such horrific much wow..
I just read Matthew’s bio. As a former intelligence analyst, I can tell you he should have been stopped and interrogated. All over the world, self-employed, former AF, Capitol Hill, WH worker. He reeks of being a member of an intelligence agency or working for foreign interests. And, if there is no wife, female, he is either strange or gay. Automatic stop and interrogate.
You think that was invasive?
Try being a Canadian born Palestinian travelling for work in Israel.
Even though I work for a Israeli based jewish company in Tel-Aviv.
I spend on average of 12 hours on the way in and I usually go 4 hours before my flight because they will keep me until right before my flight.
I’ve had my laptop confiscated and never recovered. Among the multitude of other items confiscated. I’ve been x-rayed 6 times once against my will. I’ve been subject to strip and anal cavity searches. Mental torturing interrogations etc..
I’ve been told that this is to reduce my will of ever coming back. I doubt it’s routine.
And yes I will remain anonymous because I can lose my job for ever criticizing this.
I’m sorry you’ve gone through this. Honestly, I would refuse to travel for work if I were you… or at least make sure that your company is aware of your ill treatment.
I’ve found that Israelis are pretty responsive to these kinds of concerns when put to them directly.
(And I’m speaking as an American who’s generally pro-Israel, but hates hates hates the security here and finds it incredibly degrading and counterproductive… even though I have only experienced a fraction of what you have.)
Now i transit in this airport with my 2 baggage.. the security hold my baggage because of my bose solo5 speaker i dont know why is that a big deal for them.. they said that my one baggage will remain in they will only send for after my flight… i worry about my remaining baggage if they will send complete and exact…
I would never like to have a guy like you on my flight. First, you have been to rather “odd places” who knows why. Second, NOBODY who ever “carried a high-level security clearance” says it, which possibly implies a huge lie, mister. You are just throwing the toys from the pram because professional people did a professional job. Spare us the tantrum. Not happy? Do not fly via TLV – easy solution, boy.
Your advice is well-noted and will be filed appropriately.
Israel is one of the most paranoid, racist, hateful countries in the world!!
You are being overly dramatic and I understand you perceived it as a personal affront. My unsolicited advice – grow up. In any case – thank you for the account.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.
I can confirm with you how terrible this can be.
I was kept for a few hours to wait for no reason with the most stupid questions.
The israelis are a piece of racist facists.
I discourage people flying in or out of tel aviv
I discourage people flying in or out of tel aviv , USA , everywhere on any airline . stay where you are promote local tourism . many countries around the world are discouraging Over_Tourism .
They probably thought you was a CIA agent. it wasn’t even that serious bruh! FREE PALESTINE
I read that similar blogs about USA security checks , and even worse.
I don’t remember making this an equivalence issue.
This just happened to me today. I spent 2.5 hours going through interviews, security, talking to supervisors and a private escort to my flight. I couldn’t bring my phone charger And some batteries on the plane with me and it is being shipped to my final destination a day late now since it missed boarding time. I work in a US hospital, so it’s definitely probably because I had a weird flying route. But I did feel the same way!
It is 2020 and the worse version of this procedure happened to me in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Besides the humiliating and insulting interrogations, the worst part was that the security personnel was not wearing a mask when scanning my body by physically touching it. Yes, I would call it a horrible experience. In fact, after experiencing their brutal and inhumane airport security procedure, I decided never to visit Israel again. I will hold my friends and families back if they want to visit Israel because I don’t want my loved ones to go through such a horrible procedure. Chances are always there to be picked out by the security personnel without knowing the reason.