Wednesday, February 20

Transjordan, Day Six: Interrogations

We made it to the border relatively early and had crossed Allenby by 9:30am. The plan was to get back into Israel after a maximum of four hours or so and salvage the day to do some sightseeing. Looking back we were cocky in thinking this.

As usual, we were first separated from the other travellers. Our passports were immediately taken from us, while I was taken aside (but within eye shot of my friends) by what I can only describe as a hot lady to be informally questioned. These were the same questions about who I was, what I did in London and why I was visiting Israel. Since we had had loads of practise at this it was all pretty straightforward. Still, at least my questioner was pretty this time (and it has been suggested that this in itself is a tactic. Sounds good to me).

After that everything else was new. We waited a while and then were each taken separately to be body searched in private. This involved a removal of shoes, belts and, for one of the girls, outer clothing. Everything was checked thoroughly: collars, sleeves and pockets were not left untouched. The whole deal was uncomfortable (perhaps more so for the others in my group), but since I've been searched before I wasn't too shaken. I concluded that the land border had to have a higher level of security than that at Tel Aviv.

After another long wait, two of us got taken away to be questioned, separately. Although this was now in a dedicated room, the questions were again of a preliminary and informal nature. The guy doing the asking was clearly a subordinate and still in training; I picked up on all of his obvious and blatant cues as he faked his curiosity, interest and surprise in what I had to say.

Some examples of what I was asked were how, as Muslims, we could travel in a mixed group and why, as Muslims, we wanted to visit the Biblical sites in Israel. If we were anywhere else I would have had a bit of fun with the guy (and I was already struggling to answer these questions without sarcasm), but as it stood I decided to play it safe. Without giving myself too much credit, I think that I handled him better than he had handled me, although the Israeli SIM card in my phone did attract more attention than I would have liked it to.

After our longest wait, of around two hours or so, I and the same friend were approached again. This time, however, we had different things to do: she was asked to witness a major bag search which consisted of everything being checked - seams, clothing and every scrap of paper was put into a blue evidence box to be returned later after a more private scrutinising. In the meantime, I was trying to figure out why I had been singled out for yet more questioning.

It's probably not appropriate to recount what then happened to us on this blog but I've written a (private) account if anyone is interested in the details.

We were out by 6:30pm, over eight hours later. A well deserved and expensive dinner later and we decided to hit the sack. Although the whole day had been wasted, we were glad to be continuing our journey once more.

I'm not sure why we had been treated as we were (I, perhaps naively, refuse to believe it was just our British Pakistani Muslim credentials), and to be honest I don't really care. I do think that we finally got back in because of our respective professional backgrounds, that we were a mixed group and that we had some luggage and returning flights from Israel, and not because we were liked. It was a terrifying and difficult ordeal and although a part of me appreciates the experience, I wouldn't wish it on anyone else.

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