Travel to Israel as USA muslim of Pakistani origins and lots of Muslim country visas.
September 5, 2010 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Travel to Hebron via Tel Aviv- American citizen, Pakistani ethnicity (and Muslim, don't wear a headscarf), and all sorts of stamps on my passport. Can I do it?

Travel to Hebron via Tel Aviv- American citizen, Pakistani ethnicity (and Muslim, don't wear a headscarf), and all sorts of stamps on my passport. Can I do it?

I want to visit a Palestinian friend this upcoming holiday (muslim holiday for Eid-ul-Fitr, end of Ramadan) this weekend, but I'm really nervous.

I'd be flying into Tel Aviv, and then I think taking a bus to Jerusalem, where my friend would meet me and we'd continue on to Hebron.

Can I do this? Are there serious safety concerns involved and what are they? (not sure what the 'real scene' is on the ground)

I have tons of stamps on my passport from muslim places...kuwait, dubai, syria, pakistan, turkey, azerbaijan, and more...i'm living in turkey by the way

also have tons of non-muslim countries on my passport.

please explicitly tell me what's the worse that'll happen and the likelihood of this event. can i be hurt? can i be put into any kind of cell? will they simply send me back? will i have absolutely no problems and they'll even welcome me with complimentary chocolate?

(do you recognize who I am now? that's fine. I just don't want to be searchable on this)
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Israel (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This FlyerTalk thread suggests that you might get a lot of extra scrutiny, and the State Department offers very specific guidance on the topic. Keep a note of those email addresses and phone numbers.

The ideal situation might be to get a second passport, but State Department policy only allows that under special circumstances; instead, if you have plans on visiting Lebanon or Syria before your passport expires, you might want to request it not be stamped in Israel, although that will contribute to the scrutiny on entry.
posted by holgate at 7:34 PM on September 5, 2010

My impression as a frequent traveler to Israel (though admittedly as a Jewish American, which means that there are quite clearly separate standards for the two of us) is that you'll be singled out for special scrutiny. I wouldn't expect to be detained or to miss your flight, but they may separate you from your travel partners (if you're traveling with friends). Be prepared to answer tons of questions and don't pack anything in your luggage that you wouldn't want people to paw through. (Note that you may have to go through a minor version of this runaround when entering malls, movie theaters, etc., but you'll have an easier time if you don't wear a head covering. Sadly.)

Once you land, finding buses to Jerusalem from TLV will be very easy.

In terms of the "real situation," obviously I can't make any guarantees, but I always feel extraordinarily safe in Israel. The presence of security is striking and reassuring (again YMMV if you're not Jewish, I guess), but I would never hesitate to travel there, and I think you'll find that it's much safer for women to walk around at night in Israel, than in a U.S. city of comparable size.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk more. I'd be happy to help.

Have a safe trip and Eid mubarak!
posted by AngerBoy at 7:45 PM on September 5, 2010

You're likely going to go through extra security screening upon arrival in Israel. I had visited soon after spending a year in Abu Dhabi, and I waited at least an hour for them to check me out (using whatever super-mega-ultra Google they use). An extra hour is a long time after a ten-hour flight from New York. That said, they let me go without incident. I had been waiting with others who were obviously Muslims (a few veiled women with their husbands, men wearing skullcaps, etc.).

They'll probably have some questions for you, but they're not going to harass you. There's no way you'll be in any physical danger, either from the border police or the local citizenry. Recall that Israel has a sizable Muslim population of its own (Israeli Arabs, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, make up about 20% of the population).

However, I don't know what you can expect when traveling into the West Bank; there is almost certainly a road checkpoint you'll have to go through. Anyone else have a perspective on this?
posted by holterbarbour at 7:46 PM on September 5, 2010

Who knows? They could strip search you and put you in a cell for six hours or they could ask surprisingly few questions considering you are a Muslim with presumably a Muslim name and Pakistani background along with stamps from Muslim countries. You're visiting a Palestinian in the West Bank (at least it's not Gaza). The only things that are in your favour are that you are American and possibly that you're a woman (although supposedly blond European women are suspected of being unwitting couriers for things belonging to seductive Palestinian men). I guess being Pakistani background is slightly better than being Arab in the eyes of Israel's airport security. They could be extremely rude. They will go through everything you have with you.

And then there are the checkpoints, where they will look at your passport again. These are not staffed by "security professionals" most of the time, but conscripts in the Israeli army who are young and bored and in a situation where they are regularly controlling brown-skinned usually Muslim people's lives/travel.

MeMail me if you'd like to discuss it further...the last time I was in Jerusalem was when I lived there from 1998-2003, but I keep up with reports from there.
posted by Gnatcho at 8:18 PM on September 5, 2010

Unless things have changed radically at TLV, they will be rude to you and challenging. They will push your buttons and put you through the wringer. They will be testing your patience and your limits in order to see if you fit their profile for a terrorist. Expect to hear questions like: "What do you think of Jews?" "Why were you in Afghanistan/Yemen/Iran?" "Who are you meeting here?" "Do you know anyone who is a member of Hamas?" "Where are you staying?" "Do you hate the Jewish people?"

I'd have all the information you need right at hand, including your friend's address, cellphone number, and a detailed itinerary. They will go over this stuff again and again trying to see if you lose track of your story. It's fine to get flustered and to become confused. Take a deep breath and compose yourself and then clarify. But do not become angry or aggressive, or refuse to answer their questions. Try to remember that these are professionals doing their best to keep their citizens safe. The specific techniques they use will mark as racist, prejudiced, aggressive and nasty. But having been through this several times (albeit without the complication of appearing or being Muslim), it's never personal. Keep a patient smile on your face, try to be funny without cracking wise, and act like this is the worst job interview of your life.

In the end, the US and Israel have strong travel agreements and if you're traveling on an American passport and you don't flag as a threat, you'll be allowed to pass. Remember, many Palestinians carry American or EU passports and travel through TLV to the territories. It's a tremendous pain in the ass for them, but a routine sort of pain.
posted by felix betachat at 9:28 PM on September 5, 2010

Oh, and expect to have your belongings and your person searched. I doubt you'd be strip-searched, but an x-ray of your effects and a close pat-down in a curtained room are a definite certainty. Again, the same rules apply: polite and patient is the name of the game. They might be rough with your stuff or disrespectful of your person. Remember, it's all a game to get you riled up and to ensure that you aren't carrying a bomb.
posted by felix betachat at 9:33 PM on September 5, 2010

I wouldn't. Go through Amman instead.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:19 AM on September 6, 2010

I traveled to Hebron last year, flying through Tel Aviv, from Turkey (where I currently live). I'm a blue eyed, mid 20's, Messianic Jewish Canadian girl. I have stamps from a lot of different countries in my passport.
Flying *into* Tel Aviv wasn't a problem (although I suspect you might encounter some trouble), it was flying OUT that was the problem. I think this was because I was coming from the West Bank, and flying into Turkey (recent events won't have improved this at all, either). I was interrogated for about 2 hours by multiple people. Every belonging of mine was taken out of my bags, and separated. They ran everything through the x-ray separately. They even went to the extent of opening my tube of mascara to check it was really make-up.They read/glanced at every page in my notebooks, and I was taken into a separate room to be efficiently searched by a female officer. They checked my boots for soil samples of where I had been.

They had no reason to be, nor had I given them any reason to be suspicious. I was a tourist. I have no reason why they did all this, but I can only assume it was because I had been to the West Bank (including Hebron), and was flying into Turkey.

My experience may just be anecdotal, but I wouldn't be surprised if you had even more trouble leaving than you did arriving. PM me if you want more specific details.
posted by hasna at 3:42 AM on September 6, 2010

I wouldn't. Go through Amman instead.

She'd still have to cross at Allenby Bridge, which would be about a thousand times worse than running the gauntlet at TLV.

hasna: Jews and Christians aren't usually hassled flying in to Israel, but Muslims are routinely. Next time you're going through passport control, keep an eye out. You'll see the Muslims being pulled aside and taken into interrogation rooms. It's done very smoothly, usually before people actually get into the queue.
posted by felix betachat at 7:57 AM on September 6, 2010

i travelled through israel two months ago (london to tel aviv, went to jordan for a few days via the allenby bridge, came back, visited jeruselam, then back to london). and i have a similar profile to you - pakistani ethnicity, british citizen, raised in bahrain, travelled to pakistan many times, widely travelled elsewhere.

before i describe my experiences keep in mind that i'm friends with a senior (foreign) diplomat in israel and their family, which helped smooth things out.

firstly, i want to echo hasna's comment - flying out of the country is far more difficult than flying in. there are easily understandable security concerns at ben gurion airport about hijackings so when leaving expect to have every single possession unpacked/unravelled/turned on/turned off/unsealed, both in and out of bags. one consequence is that it's pointless to bring wrapped gifts out of israel so don't bother, just re-wrap them at home.

overall, it took be two hours to clear security entering israel and around two and a half to clear security leaving. you have to bear in mind that this is not like security in other countries; being an american citizen you may not experience this but my median time in clearing airport security in the US is around four hours (out of ~ten trips) and usually consists of sitting and reading a book (which i actually find quite pleasurable). in comparison, in ben gurion airport every minute of exposure to security is full of activity of some sort:
  • you're being questioned by person A, when
  • person B interrupts and repeats a partial list of questions, then
  • persons A, B, and C excuse themselves and confer in a small circle just within your range of vision for fifteen minutes, then
  • person D takes you to a room, you take off your shirt, shoes, empty out your wallet, your bag, your pockets, and get them swabbed for explosives
  • etc, etc, etc, etc
with respect to airport security everyone is professional, no-one tried to "goad" me into emotional responses or ever asked me a single politically/religiously enflamed question. i was very impressed, but then again i'm a pretty laid back guy and never take airport security personally or use it as an opportunity to make political statements. i'm sure you're used to being questioned at airports so it goes without saying that you need your itinerary to be airtight on entering the country.

i was extremely concerned stories i'd read about airport security roughing up my things as i own an expensive dSLR camera and lenses. but they were pretty cool about it, and although your bags will get repacked in a completely illogical and misshapen form they're careful with electronics. be prepared to be separated from your belongings for an hour or longer.

oh, and haha don't do what i did with respect to getting your passport stamped. on entering after questioning the guy who handled by passport asked me straight up "do you want me to stamp your passport?" and i just shrugged and said "well i'd prefer it if you didn't" so he shrugged back and stamped a piece of paper instead. i promptly lost this piece of paper. this made crossing the allenby bridge (more below) even more exciting than necessary, as it seemed i had magically appeared in israel. on leaving israel noone gave me grief about the lack of a stamp, which i found quite odd.

noooow...this is in complete contrast to the allenby bridge. wow. felix betachat wasn't exaggerating. just avoid it and fly if you want to go to jordan. if i wasn't in the company of my friends i'd probably have joined the obvious arab/palestinian lines, and judging by the number of people sleeping on the floor i think the crossing time is quite long. that's just the israelis; the jordanians aren't fond of pakistanis either. hell at least there's a system to the border control on the israeli side, the jordanian side is just a massive free for all.

as for actually being in israel, well i spent most my time in tel aviv. i felt 100% comfortable everywhere i travelled, although birthright groups sometimes gave me some very long and cold stares. you can spot these a mile away and slightly avoid them - large group of caucasians, one leader holding a long barrelled shotgun or rifle and wearing a red shirt. i loved tel aviv.

let me know if you have any questions. enjoy your trip!
posted by asymptotic at 5:46 AM on September 7, 2010

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