Leaving Tel Aviv: My Experience Through Airport Security at Ben Gurion

Israel is big on security. Think about it and you’ll totally get why. It’s something that is nearly impossible to miss on a daily basis. They’re also fairly notorious for their rather difficult border crossings, particularly if you have one of many potential “suspect” stamps, primarily from any Arab country. After 6 weeks in the region, I’d started adapting to these stringent procedures. I mean, surely I’d seen everything right? Wrong.

I’d been warned that flying out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) can be a rather difficult process. Matt from LandLopers wrote about his experience being escorted to the gate there last year. So knowing this, I arrived at the airport a full 3.25 hours before my flight was due to depart. Little did I know, it would take me 2 hours just to clear the various levels of security and get stamped out of the country…

An Advance Warning

“They might ask you some questions,” our taxi driver warned us as we approached a gate on the highway. “For security reasons,” he added. The first wave was upon us, though this person simply chatted with the taxi driver in Hebrew and waved us on.

Rotunda at Ben Gurion Airport

The real experience started in the terminal itself, where you are directed to one of four check-in areas based on the airline you’re flying. From there, you immediately get in a line, which is where the real fun begins! First…

The Interview

Little did I know that a few questions could have such a huge effect on my day… But I was ready for whatever the friendly, nice, young gentlemen could throw at me.

“Where are you going,” he asked?
New York via Kiev,” I replied.

“Do you have any family in Israel?”
“Not as far as I know…”

“Did anyone give you anything to bring back with you,” he inquired?
“No.”

“So your bag hasn’t left your sight?
“No.”

“Who packed your bag?”
“I did.”

“Is this your first time in Israel?
“Sort of, I went in and out 3 times to visit Egypt and Jordan.”

“Egypt? Is that safe right now?”
“Yes. I went to Cairo and you’d never know anything was happening outside of Tahrir Square.”

“Hmmm. What brought you to Israel?”
“I came with a Birthright trip.”

“Oh really? Where’s the rest of your group?”
“They left December 18. I extended.”

“Did you come with a community?”
“No.”

“Are you particularly religious?”
“No.”

“High holidays or something?”
“No pretty secular.”
“Like most of Israel then,” he chuckled.

It was all very friendly and cordial. Then he starts questioning me about the validity of my claim…

“How does one get on a Birthright trip?”
“You need to be Jewish between the ages of 18 and 26.”

“Is it just for people who’ve never visited Israel before?”
“No, but you have to have not come to Israel on an educational trip before.”

“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure.”

“Do you speak any other languages?
“Spanish.”

“What about any Hebrew?”
“No.”

“None at all?”
“I picked up a few words on the trip but that’s all.”

“Sorry to ask again, but who packed your bags?”
“I did.”

And finally, a question I’d hear so many, many times from nearly everyone I’d encounter: “What time is your flight?”

He kept apologizing for asking such “personal questions.” But finally, a barcode was stuck onto my passport and my bag. Little did I know this little number would have such a large effect on my fate.

Security Barcode from TLV

Luggage Screening

From there, we had to put our bags through a heavy duty scanner, which seemed rather silly since the very next station was a thorough searching of your checked luggage by hand.

Nearly every pocket was opened on my backpack and nearly every object swabbed for explosives. Now, I’m very organized when I pack and my fantastic 32 liter backpack (which, incidentally, weighs a mere 8.5kg), is full of lots of pockets for storing stuff. While this is great for organization, it’s not good for getting through this process, or repacking my entire bag in a hurry…

“I’m really sorry about all the mess,” the nice young lady who’d gone through my stuff told me, as she waited to escort me to the check-in desk. There I was instructed to bring my backpack to the “special elevator,” to which I was escorted. “Would I ever see my bag again,” I wondered?

Security Checkpoint

From there it was onto security, where they could’ve cared less about seeing my boarding pass or ID. All they were interested in was my barcode, a quick scan of which dictates which security line I go to.

“Line 2,” I was told; a special line that can only be entered by permission. Clearly, I’d told the guy something I shouldn’t have. “What do you have to do to end up in this line,” I jokingly asked the guy in front of me. “Oh be a criminal or something,” he joked back. At least that’s how we felt.

Line 2 should be remembered by the fact that it did not move. At all. I spent roughly 45 minutes in this short line that only kept getting longer behind me. I noticed from the guy who had taken over directing people that one quick glance at the number on the barcode meant he could direct you appropriately.

By the time I finally hit the checkpoint, I knew it would be a thorough check. All electronics had to be removed from the bag, including chargers. Interestingly enough, you did not have to remove your shoes and they lacked those full body scanners that have been taking over at U.S. airports.

On the other side of the metal detector were a few chairs, a somber sign of the lengthy process ahead, where your carry-on baggage was thoroughly searched with the same attention to detail as your checked luggage. Everything was unpacked and swabbed. But much to my surprise, after this process I was waved on, unlike the poor sap who had 3 people going through his luggage in even greater detail!

From there it was onto immigration, one of the most ridiculously easy checkpoints I’d been through, even when leaving Israel by land previously. “What’s your family name,” was the one and only question and before I knew it, I was stamped out and on my way!

Departures Area at TLV

The Barcode

I would come to learn from my seatmate that the first digit of your barcode denotes the “threat” level you are perceived at from your interview. 1 meant no threat at all. I was a 5. Apparently 6 means you’re super duper suspicious…

And from the sounds of things, I could have had it much worse. After all, there are numerous reports of people being escorted to the gate and being allowed to board only with their wallets and passports! Perhaps I should consider myself lucky?

Oh, and for the record, my bag did end up back at JFK with me!

What About You?

Have you flown out of Ben Gurion or experienced tough security measures before? What was your experience like?

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97 Responses to Leaving Tel Aviv: My Experience Through Airport Security at Ben Gurion

  1. Lisa @chickybus January 13, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    I love the way you told this story; I felt like I was right there with you! It really brought back memories of when I was labeled a ‘6’ in that airport and frisked in a little booth off to the side. It was so thorough that it almost felt like a massage!

    The reason I was considered high risk, according to another traveler, is that security saw me, a solo female traveler, as someone who might have a Palestinian boyfriend (who may have packed my bag.) Also, they didn’t like where I’d been: Jordan and Syria.

    Anyway, I think you are pretty lucky. It could have gone worse, believe me! :)

    • Aaron January 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      Hahaha “almost felt like a massage.” Love it! I’ve been patted down by the TSA before and it certainly didn’t bring a massage to mind! Maybe they can learn a thing or too from the folks in Israel.

      I’m not surprised you were labeled a 6 having been to Syria. My American friend that I visisted in Iraq said he spent nearly 10 hours at the border trying to enter Israel, where I had originally met him! He had flown in and out of Amman, so he didn’t have to deal with the security at Ben Gurion!

  2. Skywater January 13, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    I got frisked pretty thoroughly. (My female security agent got so personal with my downtown bits I felt like I should have slipped a shekel into her top.)

    Of course, I had also been on a Birthright trip and did extend and went to Jordan and Egypt just as you did. I also went out and got drunk my last night in Tel Aviv… before a 5am flight. Protip: however hard getting out of Ben Gurion is sober, it’s more fun drunk.

    • Aaron January 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      Hahaha I don’t doubt that it’s more fun drunk though perhaps that may have contributed to why you were frisked and I wasn’t! :-P

  3. Bob January 14, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    After initiial questions (did u pack yourself, why israel etc) I got put in the fast lane, they didn’t scan (let alone search) my checked luggage or backpack and i went straight to bagdrop (i was 3kg overweight but they didn’t say anything). it was terminal one – quite a long walk to passports but straight through and onto shuttle bus to main terminal to catch flight back to london :) going back in a few weeks :D

    • Aaron January 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

      Haha lucky you! Glad to hear some folks have it easy! I’m guessing you hadn’t been to any Arab countries?

      • Bob January 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

        I take it you’ve never been to england? :p

  4. Adam - Travels of Adam January 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Blurgh – I’ve never exited Israel through Ben Gurion but this makes me a bit nervous! I’ve heard of people being paranoid about leaving the country and having their photos searched, etc. This past time for me visiting was the easiest entry into Israel I’ve ever had, so I’m hoping the exit will be equally easy.

    • Aaron January 16, 2013 at 12:22 am #

      I entered Israel 3 times and only once had a problem while crossing from Jordan into the West Bank (my daypack and passport were taken to a separate room for further screening without me). Still, immigration was a breeze. The guy at the hostel in Tel Aviv had advised me I may have some issues at the airport if I’d visited the West Bank but that never even came up. Apparently Egypt was enough to set off a red flag for the guy interviewing me.

  5. Maria January 14, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Oh wow! I’ve been interrogated by immigration officers abroad and once at a Canadian/US land crossing but never searched. I applaud you for keeping it together, not becoming obviously frustrated or mouthing off – don’t know if I could have remained cool and collected. Kudos!

    • Aaron January 16, 2013 at 12:29 am #

      Hell, even I’VE been interrogated (of sorts) entering the U.S. and I’m American! I have a Thai student visa that has this “X’d” perforation to it that’s staritng to peel up. The immigration folks thought I’d tried to cut up the visa… Surprisingly though, U.S. immigration could’ve cared less that I’d been to Iraq!

  6. Michael Hodson January 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    I had two Syria stamps in my passport, one Lebanon, two Jordan, two Egypt and one Sudan. Needless to say, I got three different private interviews. Two in the security line, then one in private. And they took all my hard drives and wanted to look at the stuff on them. As I recall, it took about 4 hours or so –

    • Aaron January 16, 2013 at 12:25 am #

      Yikes! I’ve heard tell tale of them forcing people to log into their email too so they can read what’s in there. I hope you still made your flight on time!

  7. Rease January 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    Wow, intense! I get pulled aside for special screening for EVERY trip. My boyfriend jokes that I have been flagged since I travel too often and lived in Argentina. I am all too familiar with the bag searches, pat downs, and bomb swabbing. I think the worst I ever had was in Argentina. They became crazy suspicious of me because my last name is the same as the president’s. They took everything out of my bags, made me repack it. I was patted down several times. I was even with a study abroad group and they just made them wait while I was searched.

    • Aaron January 29, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

      Yikes! That does not sound like fun! You’d think that maybe they’d go easy on you in Argentina for having the same name as the president! Maybe you could pass yourself off as a distant relative or something?

  8. Charu January 31, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    That’s a heck of a story, and you told it so! Trust me, as someone who travels with an Indian passport, I get interrogated ALL the time (especially in Jordan). Looks like I will have to budget 5 hours to get through Israel security….

    • Aaron February 2, 2013 at 11:18 am #

      Yikes! I can’t imagine it’s fun to travel with a passport from India…

  9. Dalia March 12, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    All a bit worrisome – I am planning on visiting Jordan in a few weeks and want to visit Jerusalem on the same trip. I have an Iranian visa in my passport (Canadian) and my travel partner (also on a Canadian passport) is Pakistani. Do you think the border crossing from Jordan to Israel will be ok (KH bridge) or would flying be better? Getting out might be an issue too.

    • Aaron March 13, 2013 at 12:30 am #

      I think you’ll have issues regardless of which entrance you use. The friend I ended up visiting in Iraq told me it took him 8 hours to cross into Israel via the KH bridge just because he had an Iraqi visa in his passport… I’ve also heard many a tale of people of Middle Eastern origin having a real hard time at border crossings. Chances are your friend will be admitted, but be prepared for a very long, and perhaps intrusive, ordeal…

      If you do end up going, be wary of passport stamps, as a number of Muslim countries refuse entry to those who have evidence of visiting Israel. By crossing at the KH bridge, Jordan won’t stamp you and you could ask that Israel doesn’t either, which they’ll probably oblidge (no guarantees though).

  10. Nathan April 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    I got a threat level 5 and got the same invasive searching and security personnel hand-holding through Ben Gurion. This was the first time I’d been to Israel and I’d just been for taglit with a few extra days in Tel Aviv. On the way there, from Heathrow, after the El Al people gave me a grilling (pro-tip: go easyjet) I got some kind of amber or red tag/sticker (I forget the details) and had to report early to the gate to be specially searched. Has anybody had this experience or know anything more?

    • Aaron April 28, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

      I’ve heard that young men traveling alone are considered “suspicious” for some odd reason, no matter if you came over for Taglit. I’m assuming you have a British passport? Do you have any stamps that might have raised eyebrows?

  11. Old Men May 23, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    It was the first time I visited Israel and the reason was a business meeting. I merely stayed 48 h there and, thus, had only hand-luggage with me. When leaving the country through Ben Gurion Airport I went straight to the second (hand luggage) security control with my previously printed online boarding card.

    Being a mid-fourty solo traveller I obviously raised some concerns to the officer even though I have never visited any arabic country in my whole life. Perhaps the most important issue was that I could not present an official invitation letter for the meeting. It was actually a bit innocent from my side to not bring something along with me. Moreover, I could also feel some doubts regarding my statement not to have any check-in luggage, which as a consequence led me to skip the first (and probably harder) security check.

    So although being well dressed and having my PhD title indicated in my passport I ended up with the much desired threat 5 level. However, I was lucky because I was the only “client” of the high security hand luggage control at that time. Normal procedures here including wipe tests, very detailed hand inspection of all my personal belongings, etc., but no more questions. All in all: 8-10 min. The Border Control and the final passport check took another 5 min and then I was through.

    From entering the taxi at my hotel in central Tel Aviv to standing right in front of my departure gate, it took me only about 75 min (I just mention this for the Guinness Book of World Records ;-) Nevertheless, please don’t take it as the normally required time for hand-luggage travellers, as the entire terminal was very empty when I went through security.

    I understand the special situation of Israel and the need for effective security measures at sensitive locations such as airports. Moreover, I honestly appreciate their effort to increase passenger security, because at the end of the day I am a passenger and it is also my security which ameliorates by such measures. In my personal case I always felt that the security personal treated me in a neutral way and with the necessary respect. However, I doubt that the profiling process in the current form is very efficient, as you see a lot of reports from obviously not dangerous travellers who passed a bad time at Ben Gurion Airport sometimes almost missing their flight. I wish you all good luck at the security controls!

    • Aaron May 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve heard that males traveling alone often raise suspicions at Ben Gurion and I’m sure the minimal luggage didn’t really help your situation. And luckuy you that the terminal was nearly empty! I was there at like 5:30 in the morning and there were tons of people, hence my long waits.

      I too understand the circumstances that Israel deals with, especially with some of the history they’ve faced and I certainly felt safer having gone through security at Ben Gurion than I do going through security in the U.S. But in a way it really is profiling. Can you imagine what it would be like for someone of Middle Eastern descent? Or with a Lebanese stamp in their passport?

  12. Maria June 5, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    My experience were even worse.
    Me, a german tourist, a blonde female, 24 years then, went to Israel for holidays. I was there for like ten days, slept in hotels and hostels and admired the country.
    At the airport on my flight back they questioned me a thousand times (“What were you doing?” “Holidays” “What for?” “To see the old Jerulasem, to lay on the beach?!” etc.) then I had to open my whole luggage. in there: A Bikini, sun-cream, dresses… NOTHING suspicious. Addition: Only stamps in my passport are from USA.
    Nevertheless, they took all my things (including wallet, phone, passport) and I had to got to a room on the side, taking off all the clothes I wore (except underpanties). Than they felt on the side of my underpanties if there would be hidden sth, they searched in my hair (!) for sth. I don`t even know what they thought, I could possibly carry with me!
    Then they went away for 20 Minutes with my clothes, while I was sitting barefoot and naked, arms crossed to cover my breasts in a sterile room on a plastic chair.
    it was then when i realised that i was completely at the mercy of them. no passport, no clothes, no rights.
    finally they decided that I was – after all – a harmless tourist and escorted me right to my seat in the plane with three (!) armed soldiers.
    the whole plane was looking at me like I was a dangerous criminal.
    never been that humiliated.

    • Aaron June 8, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      WOW…that is QUITE a story! I can imagine it was a humiliating experience (and you make me feel very lucky for what I went through, though now that I have even more stamps from Arab countries, I don’t think I’d have an easy time were I to visit again on this passport). How awful to have to sit in a cold sterile room without any of your belongings and clothes! I bet you felt totally helpless and vulnerable.

      While I do support the fact that every country has the right to secure their airports the way they see fit, I do think that Israel does go a bit far in their security process. Your story says it all! Thanks for sharing.

      • Thomas June 15, 2013 at 11:43 am #

        Maria received the special treatment for Germans. You don’t hear or read about it very often because it is basically what you can expect as a German if you visit – Israel. The country which was founded by people who fled from – Germans.

        They just want to remind you of this. That’s all.

        • Aaron June 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

          Thanks for your insight Thomas. I understand the mentality but I can’t say I agree with the tactics.

          • Toni August 14, 2013 at 7:24 am #

            Actually, I visited as a German holiday maker and I *only* got pretty much exactly the same treatment as Aaron, with only Ruassian and US stamps in my passport and no birthright trip.
            And thanks for sharing your experience…it was so nice to realise I wasn’t the only one having so much fun at Tel Aviv airport!

          • Aaron August 18, 2013 at 9:37 am #

            Hehe…only… Fun times! Curious as to what sparked your treatment (aside from, perhaps, your nationality).

      • William February 17, 2014 at 5:50 am #

        This is an interesting story…. but Every Country has right to take all those measures that make security risks and threats…
        All the Tourist should RESPECT the immigration rules and regulations of that country they are visiting…

        • Aaron February 28, 2014 at 3:14 am #

          Yes, every country has a right to do as they see fit. I’m totally with you there. That said, we tourists also have a right to share our experiences, thoughts, praises and complaints.

  13. DAVID August 21, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I will be traveling to Israel in November for 7 days. I will be traveling solo and I am 35 years old. Have a brand new US passport with no stamps in it. My country of origin is Georgia from the former USSR. Not planning on visiting West Bank of Gaza. I have few questions.

    1) I will be traveling with one carry on luggage and one small backpack which I used for laptop. Usually they allow you to carry one carry on item and one personal bag/case while traveling. Will this be an issue when leaving Israel? I don’t like checking luggage in and was wandering since I will have 2 items to carry on the plane, would that cause issues?

    2)What do they do with your phones? I have an expensive smartphone and would not appreciated them taking it away to check it in… do they allow you to carry smartphones with you on the plane?

    3)Based on the above info, is there a high chance they will mark me as 5 or even 6? THis is my first time visiting the country. Also I am Christian and if they ask about my religion, do they discriminate against Christians?

    and the final one

    4) What if you miss the plane?? Do they get you on another one next day, or they dont care and you have to purchase another ticket?

    thanks for any tips…

    • Aaron August 23, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      Hi David,

      Cabin baggage restrictions usually fall under the discretion of the airline itself, not the airport. While I only had 1 piece of carryon luggage, I can’t imagine having a carryon bag and a personal item, as is the norm in the States, would be problematic.

      My phone was never taken from me, but it was swabbed for explosives, as was the charger and all the rest of my electronics and their respective charges. That said, if you’re considered highly suspicious they could theoretically make you check your phone, but given your circumstances I doubt this would happen. Then again, who knows?

      I have no clue what you’d be marked as. Just be yourself when they interview you and see what comes of it.

      I’ve not heard of anyone ever missing their flight. And if there’s one question that they asked me more than any other it’s “What time is your flight?”

      Good luck!

  14. DAVID August 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Aaron

    Thanks for your reply. I am flying back at midnight non-stop to Philly on US Air, so hoping at that time there won’t be too many people. I am still a bit confused about the sequence of the security check; If I do not intend to check in anything, do I simply print the boarding pass and head over to security check, or i need to stand in line where someone MUST come up to me and ask questions BEFORE i even head to security.

    And suppose they label me as 5, do they take me to another place where the question my further and is it at this point where they might require me to open laptop and log into my mail?

    My concern is having gone through security and then having to return back to the counter to check in the lugggage because of the phone or laptop…

    Or once they let you go through security/metal detectors, most likely they won’t make you check in the baggage….

    I am thinking that checking baggage always happens BEFORE you even get to security so I was just trying to visualize this whole sequence.

    thanks again.

    Oh, and it looks like I will DEFINITELY be “interviewed” based on what I have read above and me being a single male….. fun times :)

    • Aaron August 26, 2013 at 5:11 am #

      David,

      EVERYONE gets interviewed. It’s impossible to skip this step. So don’t worry.

      I was a 5. They never took me anywhere for questioning or asked me to open my laptop of phone so I wouldn’t sweat it if I were you. Biggest thing is be yourself and don’t be nervous. If you come across as nervous, then they’ll suspect you of something.

      The sequence is:

      Step 1. Checkpoint on the road to the airport where they ask your driver some questions and peek in the car (I passed by at 4am and they didn’t ask us anything)

      Step 2. Baggage screening when walking in the airport and perhaps metal detector too. Just a standard x-ray machine for the bags. This is common in many countries.

      Step 4. Line for interviews, which, when I was there, doubled as a line for the checked baggage screening by hand (though I’ve heard this is now done behind the scenes like all other airports). It’s not possible to skip this step.

      Step 5. Check in. If you checked-in online and don’t have bags to check you could probably proceed to security, but you’ll already have the barcode from your interview.

      Step 6. Security, like at every other airport. But they tell you which line based on your barcode.

      Step 7. Immigration.

  15. Mohammad September 2, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    Hi everyone

    I am due to travel to Israel (Ben Gurion Airport) this Thursday from Manchester UK

    I am of Pakistani origin but British Born, After reading the above I am gonna be interviewed without a shadow of a doubt.

    I am married to a Moroccan citizen and have probably 6-7 Moroccan stamps after regular visits, 3 Saudi Arabian stamps (Religious pilgrimage), 1 Jordanian, 2 Turkish & 1 Pakistani (NOT LOOKING GOOD)

    I crossed the KH Bridge last year in January and they kept us in the terminal for over 8 hours but only interviewed me twice for about half an hour and then let us in.

    I have a beard which isn’t a big deal and i’m travelling with my cousin who is of mixed Turkish-Pakistani ethnicity.

    I understand everyone is having difficulties leaving the country but how was your experience flying in.

    Based on the stories above I’m sure to have a nice lengthy interview.

    Thanks

    • Aaron September 9, 2013 at 2:36 am #

      Hi Mohammad,

      How did it go?

      I found flying in to be quite easy, but I came with a group. If you got held up at the KH Bridge then you’d almost definitely encounter issues at the airport. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Israel ever actually denying anyone entry, just giving them a HUGE run around at the border…

      Cheers!
      Aaron

  16. Jordan September 16, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Cheers,

    I’d like to add a few words to this very step-by-step experience that you had..
    Israel is a country that surrounded by “enemies” calling to destroy her day in and day out … I think that all those checks aren’t that bad cause at the end of the day most likely that many people will pass like you even if its 5/6 or whatever barcode you got and most likely you will get home the safest way possible cause in my opinion the security there is outstanding and unlikely you’ll ever get blown up in the air .. with today’s technologies you can probaby swipe bombs inside cellphones or anything on your mind and they probably afraid of that. I went with my family and we didn’t pass anything like you said just few questions and on our way. I suppose that other airports around the world isn’t like that and most likely that someone with israeli passport will pass the same if not worse than what you’ve passed. anyways it’s not sound that bad and you sure had your experience. It wouldn’t stop me from come there again in few years. Cheers :-)

    • Aaron September 23, 2013 at 7:28 am #

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, of course Israel has a unique security situation. But having been through hundreds of airport security checkpoints the world over, I do think that the tactics that Israel uses, while effective, go a bit too far. It’s well reported that if you have visited any number of Muslim countries you will face a harsher screening and now that I’ve been to Iraq, I’m sure I’d face a much worse experience next time. Never mind that the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan actually support Israel…

  17. Joan December 1, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Hi, my experience in 2009 was exactly the same! I am from the Netherlands, travelling independently, purely because I am fascinated by the region’s history, without any political opinion. But apparently, the mere fact of travelling alone appears to be suspicious. Anyway, they remained polite, and I made my flight, so although I was rattled a bit, it was not too bad…. Planning on going again next year….

    • Aaron December 2, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

      I’ve heard from numerous people that people traveling alone, especially men, raise particular flag. I knew going into the security process that it would be intense, but I didn’t know just how intense it would be. And while I do respect their right to conduct security the way they see fit, it sure does make the US’s TSA look a wee bit ridiculous!

  18. stela February 4, 2014 at 3:04 am #

    Fucking airport security . Many questions.them scream at me. I cryied. I flight not for first time. I flight 4 or many time. But last time, was terrible . He take my baggage on security ,they say that my baggage come to bucharest with the next flyght,and I wait today is 5 th day , and them don’t find it. How it’s possible.? I stay without documents what was there and without all things that cost 800$.

    • Aaron February 6, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      Yikes! That’s not a good experience! Where is your passport from? Though Lost Luggage is not an unusual thing, it’s happened to the best of us! Many travel insurance policies cover lost luggage reimbursement, which would have helped you under this scenario.

  19. Jesper February 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    I just went home from Israel yesterday after a business trip, where I didn’t recieve a security letter from the company we visited. Neither did my colleage, but oddly enough he got the ‘2’ and I got a ‘5’. Took me 3 hours to get through. My story is pretty similar to your own, but with one additional detail. At the first counter (which took 1 hour to get to, and another 30 minutes of questioning) they took my ipad, demanded my code and ran off with it. “We take it to another room for scanning”.

    When I got it back 10 minutes later I could see that it had been unlocked, and a few megabytes used on data traffic (at insane datarates I may add). I didn’t say anything ofcause, I felt rather overwhelmed by theese officers and didnt want to say or do anything to bring attention to myself.

    Now I got my ipad on my table to stare at suspiciously every time I pass it – wondering if they installed a neat little rootkit or something else funny on it. Already considering selling it and getting another one. :-)

    I guess we should be greatful for the security since it’s all for ours and their protection (god knows it’s needed in that region) but for someone from scandinavia, used to laid back and casual security checks of the european airports, this is quite an experience.

    • Aaron February 15, 2014 at 12:34 am #

      You know, I crossed the land border between Jordan and the West Bank and they took my daypack (with my laptop) and passport away to a back room for like 40 minutes for “additional screening. Never occurred to me that they may have installed some sort of tracking thing on it, though they didn’t ask for my password. Good thing I don’t have that computer anymore!

      Thankfully, at the airport, nobody demanded the password to my computer or phone! I see that as a gross invasion of privacy.

      And sheesh! What a story! Do you have any idea what got you a “5?” Have you been to any other Middle Eastern countries countries?

      • Jesper February 15, 2014 at 3:12 am #

        I’ve never been to any other middle eastern contry, or any other country that may be at odds with Israel. In hindsight I would have done a few things differently tho…

        I was wearing my comfortable travelling clothes (T-shirt, baggy jeans, sneakers), didn’t shave that morning and used a backpack instead of a briefcase for carry-on baggage. On top of that, when I’m wearing T-shirt, 2 of my tattoo’s are visible.

        There was plenty of time considering what gave me that ‘5’ at the different lines, and I admit I *did* stand out visually from most of the other travellers. People with piercings, using ordinary backpacks and/or lazy clothes was over-represented in the extra screening lines.

        Next time I will do a few things differently. :-)

        • Aaron February 28, 2014 at 3:40 am #

          Interesting that your relaxed clothing may have set it off. Thanks for sharing!

  20. nathan February 25, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    exactly what happened to maria from germany happened to me. rude people, humiliating experience. i a am 29-year-old american male–they still have my camera, which i suspect was stolen from me–no help from the airport authorities or El Al airline.

    i’ve been to some of the worst hellholes on earth and i’ve never been treated like such a criminal.

    i’ll never go back to that shithole of a country again. i don’t care what level of existential threats you THINK you are facing, you don’t treat people like animals. you’d think the people of israel, if anyone, could get through their fucking heads.

    • Aaron February 28, 2014 at 3:07 am #

      Yikes! Thanks for sharing your story, though.

  21. John Delaney March 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    My experience wasn’t airport security, but customs problems trying to enter Turkmenistan a few years ago.

    My traveling buddies and I, were doing a grand road trip from London through to Mongolia.

    We arrived via a ferry across the Caspian sea, with our little Fiat Panda car, only to realise at customs we didn’t have enough dollars to pay our way into the country.

    We had enough money to get 2 of the 4 of us through, along with the car. The nearest place that would take Visa in order to obtain more money was Ashgabat, about 500km away. In short, me and a mate had to complete a 1000km round trip to the nearest international bank so that our friends could escape the border.

    We were lucky that a full tank of petrol was only 50 cents, because it is subsidized by the state. Quite an adventure.

    I have only just stumbled across your blog, I have been having a read and it really makes me want to travel again. Not sure if my wife would enjoy the real adventures stuff however…

    • Aaron March 20, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

      Man oh man that must have been frustrating! Entrance, exit and visa fees are a commonplace around the world. Heck there are even “reciprocity fees” in some countries. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead and adequately prepare for the situation. I flew to Indonesia this summer and planned to get a visa on arrival, which required a certain amount in U.S. currency. I was glad I came prepared, as the woman in front of me was sent to the ATM!

      That’s quite a story to tell though!

  22. Ern V. Maitim March 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    I’ve always been dreaming of returning some day to Tel Aviv as I miss the city so much – then I run into your post haha. Still, I have plans of visiting TLV again – whatever it takes. I just pray that I don’t get to experience the “horrifying tales” told here.

    • Aaron March 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      Hehe. Well you could always fly out of Amman… And it seems like the vast majority of people have ok experiences. Just not the ones who search for horror stories on the internet. :-P

  23. shuman majumder March 30, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Our group of four friends all with US passport had a security level 6 yesterday. We got to the airport only 1.5 hrs before the flight. They skipped checking our check in luggage and let us check in and then go to security line. Our experience was same as you Aaron expect few of us also went through a body scanner after the initial metal detector. We are all of different origins. I was born in India and one of my other friend was born in Pakistan and is a Muslim. The girls were Vietnamese and Brazilian. We also did the border crossing to Jordan through Eliat to see Petra. Since I travel to lot of countries I use 2 separate US passports. My other passport had stamps to Muslim countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE etc. They did find that passport during the search where they took the bag to the side but did not say or ask me anything about it. But we kind of expected this because of our Muslim friend. During every crossing he had to wait while they did extra checks on him and ask him more questions. On our way into Israel we had to wait 3 hrs while they interviewed him 3 times and checked to see his passport was real or not. I guess he’s not coming back to Israel again.

    • Aaron March 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

      6? Wowza! Did they make you check everything except your wallet and passport?

      I’ve heard that since I had my experience they’ve moved the checked luggage inspection to something that happens behind the scenes, which is probably why they didn’t do that for you. I’m sure they still do that whole process, you just don’t see it.

      Funny, I had Malaysia stamps in my passport too and didn’t have a problem. Entering Israel from Egypt was pretty easy. Jordan, not so much. But that was nothing compared to my experience flying out of TLV. I’m not surprised though that you had issues while traveling with a Muslim friend. While I was in Israel I met a fellow traveler (and American) who was teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan. He had to fly into Amman and told me that it took him a whopping 8 hours to get across the border into Israel just because of his Iraqi visa!

  24. Lia April 11, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    I don’t recall my barcode my second time exiting the country, but I can tell you that I had a unique experience… of my own making! Having spent volunteer time in the army (and lots on the beach), I had a collection of spent bullets mixed with shells that I was taking home (I thought it was cool art for a bowl?). Well, I had forgotten to leave behind the one live round of ammunition that was also in my collection. So, sheepishly, I approached the first security guard and held out the bullet, explaining my stupidity and saying I didn’t want to just throw it in the trash. He asked me a bunch of questions and then called over another guy to ask me a bunch of questions. Most of it centered on questions of Judaism and not even the bullet, which had me sure I was going to be tripped up. I was sweating bullets (pun intended) but then never pulled me away from the main security line throughout and eventually I passed through after about ten minutes and nothing special went on with my bags, checked or carry-on. I’m only hoping that as I gear up to return in a few months they haven’t put me on some list that says “This idiot girl likes to bring home bullets as souvenirs, give her a hard time if she ever comes back.”

    • Aaron April 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      Yikes! At least you were honest and up front about it. Did you get to keep the live bullet or did they take that? Haha and yes, you probably ended up on some special list. I doubt I’d fare all that well now that I’ve been to Iraq either…

    • Vadim June 15, 2014 at 4:50 am #

      Lucky you, then. If you had done the same thing in India, you’d be thrown in jail for months, granted that person didn’t notify them, because he didn’t realize that he had a bullet lodged in his bag..
      But, I don’t wish to offend you, it was seriously foolish of you to bring shells with you, it doesn’t pose a threat, but it sure as hell raises a few questions, so other than sharing your experience (by educating others not to follow your footsteps), you have no reason to complain, it was super suspicious..

  25. George May 10, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    Hi, I was marked as 5, as my luggage had an Emirates sticker. They asked me why I had it and replied that I travelled once from Malta to Cyprus with Emirates and never been to UAE. As it seems , they did not believe it. The weird thing is that my luggage was locked with three digit locker. When I opened it at home, I found out inside an official Israeli document which says that it was opened as they saw something strange in it. They did not violate the locker. The only different from my entrance was a small wooden case with a bottle of wine, a gift from an Israeli colleague…maybe they wanted to ckeck it more.

    • Aaron May 10, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

      Wait, so when you got home, they had opened your luggage and taken the wine, but the lock was still on your bag?

      In the U.S., these days, all luggage locks you can buy can be opened by airport security folks. That’s obnoxious, though, that they found you suspicious just for flying Emirates…

      • George May 10, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

        Hi , when I entered Israel I had only clothes in my bag. A colleague offered me a very good wine in a wooden case. So the only difference, when leaving the country, was the wine. They did not take it. The lock is an incorporated one , with three digits combination. It was not violated, so I suppose that they found somehow the combination and opened the bag. The document says that all the process is recorded , so if I have any problem with missing parts, then I can ask for the video. Nothing was missing.

        • Aaron June 4, 2014 at 3:08 am #

          Oh, interesting. I’m sure they’ve got some way to get into luggage locks. They’ve figured that out in the U.S. (all locks sold nowadays can be opened by security personnel…it’s the law). Good thing everything was still in your bag!

  26. Mark May 14, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    I travel to Israel/Palestine 2 or 3 times a year and have been on level 5 for a long time.

    Travelling through Tel Aviv only yesterday was very different as suitcases were not scanned in the usual way but everybody was told to leave them unopened! Getting home and opening y case I discovered that the entire contents had been removed and thrown back in. I think i’d rather go back to the old system because Security show a little more respect with your belongings when they open it in front of you.

    Last year I had an entire case destroyed!

    • Aaron May 21, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

      Yeesh! I’d heard that they were moving to a “behind-the-scenes” scanning system for checked luggage, similar to what exists in most airports around the world. It seems, though, that they’ve basically retained their old habits, of going through every item individually. Though now it’s not done in front of you. Comforting, really… I wouldn’t say they showed respect for my belongings on the old system though. They didn’t repack it either! Everything was left in a heap for me to put away!

    • Vadim June 15, 2014 at 4:44 am #

      You’ve had the pleasure of going through the new system they are using in the airport, I think they took inspiration from the US.
      They said they would leave a piece of paper if your suitcase is opened, and that only a small % of luggage is actually opened.
      Since yours was opened, could you share the thing they left inside? Unless they didn’t? Which was my concern for my flight this week.. they can steal stuff from my bag and I wouldn’t be able to blame them..

  27. Pauline June 2, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I went through airport security at Ben Gurion yesterday. I wasn’t aware of the questioning at the beginning but luckily always arrive early before a flight and the airport wasn’t very busy.. When asked about my flight ticket I handed them my itinerary for the whole trip during the week. I was coming back to London but had been to Dubai earlier in the week for business and then flew to Tel Aviv through Amman a couple of days later. I stayed in Israel for business but also to visit a few places. As soon as they realised I was in Dubai beforehand the tone changed and they became much more suspicious.. I was quite oblivious and answered all the weird questions. They then left a sticker onto my passport but again didn’t know what it meant.. I was subject to full search of my carry on bag. Most of the other people were young females (from France) and I wondered what kind of profiling was going on there as it seemed a bit weird!! It is only today that I realised that the number on the sticker meant I was a serious threat (nr 5) and I am really astonished by this (especially as I have always been a fan of this country). Being a female alone, having been to Dubai on the same trip and connecting through Jordan apparently makes me a suspected terrorist…

    • Aaron June 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      Lucky you got there early! I had been warned that it would take a while so I got there extra early. I’m not surprised by your story, though. It echoes so many others that I’ve heard of people who have been to Middle Eastern countries who suddenly have an enormously hard time, either with immigration or, even more commonly, at Ben Gurion Airport. Just by virtue of having been to Dubai and Jordan (with whom Israel has a peace treaty), you become suspicious, much like I did for having visited Egypt and Jordan while I was in Israel. Sure I was a solo male traveler, but I had come to Israel with a Jewish group and also ended up a 5!

      While I was in Israel, I met an American citizen on a bus to Eilat, who was teaching English in Iraqi Kurdistan. As there are no flights between Iraq and Tel Aviv, he had flown into Amman and crossed the border via the King Hussein Bridge into the West Bank. He told me that it took him 8 hours to clear that border thanks to his Iraqi visa!

      • Pauline June 3, 2014 at 5:50 am #

        Yes that was lucky indeed! I still can’t get over the fact that I was a “strong suspect”! It is amazing as well how much more suspicious you become all over the world when you’re travelling solo as a man or a woman. To be honest the security checks I went through were not that bad, just a swab of my carry on and shoes, I didn’t have to go to the Xray machine or to a special room… I really want to go back to Israel as I loved it so much and hope it will never be worse than what I had this time… I also would like to visit more Arab countries like Jordan but I’m not so sure about it now as it will only make things worse. I understand they have to be careful and have tight security but is it maybe a tad over the top?

        • Aaron June 4, 2014 at 12:05 am #

          Indeed it is amazing how solo travelers are more suspicious, though I suppose it kind of makes sense. Someone actually told me that solo American Jewish males were actually quite suspicious to Israeli authorities. Can you imagine that?

          So they only swabbed your carry on bag, not the entire contents within it? Legitimately every single item in my carry on was swabbed one by one. And I went through a metal detector.

          Jordan is really wonderful. Petra alone is worth the trip as it remains one of the most incredible places I have ever visited. And the Jordanian people are very warm and friendly. You can still visit by flying into Amman. Or flying into Tel Aviv and subjecting yourself to Israeli airport security again (crossing the border into Jordan is pretty straightforward, though I got held up getting back into Israel via the West Bank while they took my passport and carry on bag to the back for a while before unceremoniously dumping everything in the middle of the floor…).

  28. Brittney June 2, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    Hello! I had a couple questions and was wondering if anyone had advice or warnings. I’m traveling to Israel on birthright on an American passport, and will definitely be extending my trip. I plan on traveling to Jordan and Lebanon by land, but here’s the problem: my boyfriend (who is American but has a Jordanian passport) will be meeting up with me after birthright is done. Does anyone have advice on border crossings or problems that might arise with this? We haven’t decided in which order we’ll be visiting the countries, although right now it looks like we will meet in Lebanon, then Israel, then end in Jordan, after which I would travel back to Tel Aviv alone. Thanks so much!

    • Aaron June 2, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

      Hi Brittney,

      You CANNOT visit Lebanon by land from Israel and Lebanon will refuse you entry if your passport shows any evidence that you have been to Israel before. The only way you could make that work would be to ask Israel not to stamp your passport and then fly from Amman to Beirut. However, you would probably have a difficult time re-entering Israel after visiting Lebanon. Likewise, if the Israeli border guards decide to stamp your passport anyways, or Jordan stamps on a crossing with Israel, you will be refused entry to Lebanon. The two countries are still technically at war with each other, hence these ridiculous policies. Alternatively, you could visit Lebanon first before you ever go to Israel, but it does not sound like that will be possible for you since you are going to Israel with Birthright.

      Seems like your best bet would be to plan to meet your boyfriend in Jordan. Or Egypt. Either one of those countries is fine, just not Lebanon.

  29. Matthew June 6, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    Hey there, I haven’t had anything as bad as some of those German tourists but after visiting Cartagena, Colombia I had to fly back to Canada through Bogota and interestingly they said I was selected for a random body search even though about a fifth of the people on my flight were as well. This seems to be routine since apparently Bogota has more cocaine traveling though it than any other airport in the world. Anyways I plan on visiting Israel in the fall and I was hoping you could help me out with a few questions I’d like to ask you. I’m planing on visiting Israel to see biblical sights because I’m Christian and I’ll be coming to Israel after visiting the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, the UK, Italy, the Vatican and Greece on the same trip in that order. Before that I will not have travelled to a single Islamic courtry but after that I will be flying to Istanbul, Turkey and then to Cairo to see the pyramids, the Nile and the Egyptian museum. I will only be in each of these countries for between 1-3 days and the only stamps I have in my passport are from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia as well as a few in transit stamps from the US and Switzerland. I’m Canadian as is my passport and I’m of Dutch, German and very distant Irish and English descent as my dad’s dad is from the Netherlands and my dad’s mom is from Germany, so since my last name is Dutch I won’t have a problem if I don’t mention I’m part German will I? I’m sorry this is so long but you don’t see any red flags going up from any of this information, do you? Thanks very much!

    • Aaron June 7, 2014 at 11:08 am #

      I don’t really know what to tell you, sorry! Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania might cause you some problems, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do to minimize your risk of raising red flags. I wouldn’t mention anything about German heritage though.

      Enjoy your trip! Sounds like a great one! Istanbul is AMAZING (more on that here) and Cairo is totally crazy (in a good, albeit somewhat overwhelming way). More on Cairo here. If you’re interested in Christian sites, be sure to check out the Coptic churches in Cairo…they’re very unique!

  30. Michelle Cohen June 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Here is the best way to answer the questions you had been asked so that you will pass through as quickly as possible.

    Q “Where are you going,” he asked?
    A “New York”

    Q “Do you have any family in Israel?”
    A “No”

    Q “Did anyone give you anything to bring back with you,” he inquired?
    A “No.”

    Q “So your bag hasn’t left your sight?
    A “No.”

    Q “Who packed your bag?”
    A “I did.”

    Q “Is this your first time in Israel?
    A “Yes” (Which would eliminate the next question)

    Q “Hmmm. What brought you to Israel?”
    A “I was on vacation” Which would eliminate the next two questions

    “Are you particularly religious?”
    “No.”

    “High holidays or something?”
    “I’m secular.”

    “Like most of Israel then,” he chuckled.
    That would eliminate the following questions about Birthright

    Q “Do you speak any other languages?
    A “Spanish.”

    Q “What about any Hebrew?”
    A “I picked up a few words during MY VACATION.”

    “Sorry to ask again, but who packed your bags?”
    “I did.”

    If he/she would ask again if you ever came to Israel before, only then you would mention passing through, and without saying to where, unless they ask.

    Less is better, particularly to yes and no questions.

    Thank you for the story, and I am glad that Israel is so cautious. Believe it or not, some diaspora Jews and even Israelis have collaborated with terrorists, and have supplied weaponry in Sinai, for money. Many Israelis, particularly in border control and airport security have a difficult time understanding why a Jew would want to visit any Arab country, due to the tension within those countries and with regard to Israel, and because many Muslims despise Jews. Let alone visiting Arab cities in Judea and Samaria.

    • Aaron June 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

      Thanks for the advice. While I’ve certainly withheld parts of the truth when talking to security officials before (I NEVER tell immigration folks that I write a blog…that tends to spur red flags), I’ve never outright lied to one before. But I do agree that less is better. I’m sure it was the fact that I mentioned I had visited Egypt and Jordan that set me off, though, to be fair, the guy was flipping through my passport at the time, so he probably would have noticed it anyways and I didn’t want to be caught lying to him…

      I did hear after the fact from others who have visited Israel that American Jewish men traveling alone raise suspicions. Thanks for shedding some light on why that is!

  31. Vadim June 14, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Hey there, I might be late to the party but maybe I can share something that could potentially help others, it´s not some crazy top secret trick, but just using common sense.
    You do NOT want to joke with the staff, they are trained to first and foremost to racially profile the crowd.
    The next “red flag” is whether or not you’re traveling alone, it’s not a definitive criteria, but if you’re being asked personal questions it’s because of that.
    Regarding the questions, every single group/person gets questioned, if a family of 3 arrives, the they would address the family as a whole, but generally speaking, everyone gets questioned, so it’s not a sign of anything.

    Visiting neighboring countries is another “red flag” that they can’t simply shrug off as being “normal”, once they establish that your story makes sense, you’re good to go.

    It can be overwhelming for a first timer, but, the most important thing you can do is simply not joke about anything, when they ask you whether or not you packed the suitcase yourself, don’t be joking about how you packed all your bombs neatly, or that Osama packed it for you. Even subtle jokes can flag you as a potential threat.

    If you’re uncomfortable with that.. you might want to skip Israel on your “birthright” trip.

    • Aaron June 17, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      Yes I very much agree with this. You should NEVER joke about anything when it comes to airport security as everyone is on high alert. If you joked that there were bombs in your suitcase at any airport in the world, you would be arrested.

      Thanks for the information about “red flags.” I can see why solo travelers would be more suspicious than families. But I would also think that many people who visit Israel would take the opportunity to visit Petra in Jordan or Mount Sinai in Egypt. Seems a little silly that this is a red flag, particularly as it was never really a problem re-entering Israel by land from either Egypt or Jordan.

  32. Parrhesiastes June 20, 2014 at 5:24 am #

    Hey. I read your blog before going to Israel and it really helped me “keep calm and carry on.”

    I hold a European passport and was born in a Muslim country, though not Arab. Upon arrival, I was traveling alone, I was screened for 2 hours and asked to “go to that room with a cola machine” – i liked that generic description. The two hours were mostly waiting with two short interviews which consists of following questions,
    i. what is your father’s first name?
    ii. what is your grand father’s first name?
    iii. where were they born?
    iv. what was there religion?
    v. what is your religion? (to this i replied, i am non-theist, and she asked me ‘what religion is this?’)

    (note, no significance whatsoever given to mother or grandmother)
    And, I was asked to unlock my Android phone and show my “contact list,” which funnily enough was impossible for the security officer. She was clueless how to navigate through my custom rom with custom launcher and many other things. After poking around, which I could see, helplessly, for 5 minutes, she gave up and asked me politely: please open your contacts list. When I opened, she failed to see all the contacts and once again, asked me to “show me your family contacts.”

    After that, I was given the entry permit which was timestamped *2.5 hours earlier*!

    Upon exit, I was given barcode starting with 6. No real question were asked. But, once I went through security, the staff as soon as they noticed the barcode, asked me to follow and put me another queue: there, then an argument broke out among them with a lot of pointing to me and others and shrugging shoulders from other staff – i guess they were thinking how come this person didn’t come to *this* queue.

    Next, 1.5 hours in wait since there were 5 more people in front of me including a french couple, a Scandinavian girl, an Arab family all except the latter were stereotypically Europeans so I am not sure what to make of racial profiling, I guess it was simply ‘profiling’. Here, I didn’t have any trouble as well since I actually had nothing with me except a slingshot bag with papers. I went through normal body check which I guess is routine. The only nonroutine thing was this: while i was going through body check, the security was constant on the phone and was taking instructions and asked me repeatedly to “lift left leg,” “show the jeans zipper,” after talking to whoever he was talking to on the phone – this process was standard for rest of passengers in the same queue. But it wasn’t too bad: because, while I was waiting I saw 4 people including a middle aged man, an old lady, and two young girls going to a small room from which their under wears, bras, etc were passed outside – all this was very visible and everyone around me started to whisper when it happened.

    Later, upon the exit stamp counter, the guy looking at my passport, chuckled: “so they give you much trouble getting in?” I told him, “not really,” and he stamped and handed back my passport, “you are alright.”

    What do you make of all this, I leave it to you: I, on the other hand, not looking forward to visit Israel again – unless it is really required as part of my work, which was this time.

    • Aaron July 8, 2014 at 4:45 am #

      That’s quite an experience. Thanks for sharing your story. That is kind of funny that the woman couldn’t figure out how to work your phone…

      I can’t say I had any trouble when I flew into Ben Gurion or when I came back from Egypt. Coming back from Jordan, though, they decided they needed to take my daypack (with my laptop) and my passport to a back room for “additional screening,” though they did not request the password to my laptop. This was at the King Hussein Bride crossing between Jordan and the West Bank (near Jericho). Finally, almost an hour later they brought out a cart and just dumped everyone’s bags on the middle of the floor! Then a woman walked out with a stack of all of our passports (the group at this point was me and a bunch of Palestinians) and just stood there sipping her coffee for 5 min or so. A Palestinian woman told me “It’s always like this.” Finally she started calling names and then I was on my merry way. The immigration guy asked me my name and then asked if I was Jewish, to which I replied yes. He stamped me back in and I was out the door.

      This was all before I visited Iraq. Can’t imagine what would happen if I returned now on my current passport…

  33. Kylie June 21, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    I am Jewish and I have travelled in and out of Israel countless times since I first went in 1994. Last year I went for the first time with my young daughter and my (second) husband. My daughter is from my first marriage to an Israeli who now lives in Sydney, Australia and when I remarried, I did not change my family name again, so my new passport has my maiden family name in it. When we were leaving Ben Gurion, we were put the third degree by no less than 6 security staff, all of whom seemed a bit perplexed as to why three members of a family all had different family names. I explained over and over again that I had remarried and chosen not to take my second husband’s surname and that my daughter’s surname is the same as her biological father. I speak very fluent Hebrew so that helped but nevertheless, it took us over 2 hours to get through security before checking in our luggage, it was so frustrating. My husband is also Jewish and has mixed Spanish/Greek heritage and I suppose to look at him, he fits many ethnic profiles, he could probably also pass as an Arab. I am assuming that he is the reason that we were detained so long, they asked him lots of questions about Judiasm and a Jewish life, they even asked my husband to recite Kiddush and the Aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet). All in all, very frustrating and it meant that we had very little time left at the airport for goodbyes with our family and friends, we wasted all our time in the security lines. I understand the reasons for such thorough security, but it does leave a very bad taste at the end of an otherwise fantastic trip.

    • Aaron July 8, 2014 at 4:36 am #

      Thanks for sharing your experience Kylie. That’s terrible what your family was put through! I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I would have been traveling with my parents (we each have different family names). Since you travel to Israel rather frequently, I feel like once you passed that interview they should have put a special indication on your barcode that you’d been cleared this time so this doesn’t happen again or something like that…

  34. Colette July 3, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    hi I am Canadian citizen , born in Iran, like to travel to israel in Oct with my
    Canadian passport. I am just wondering anyone with similar status can advice me what to expect. I am female and have plan to travel alone.

    • Aaron July 8, 2014 at 4:31 am #

      I’m assuming your Canadian passport says where you were born. So you should expect that it will take you a while to enter the country and expect a thorough interview when you fly out of Tel Aviv. As I mentioned in some earlier comments, I have an American friend who was teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan and had an Iraqi visa. He had to fly to Amman and cross into Israel via the King Hussein Bridge, which connects Jordan and the West Bank. He reported that it took him nearly 8 hours to get through immigration.

      Others, though, seem to breeze through on their way in. I sure did, and I went in and out of Israel 3 times. So you never know. I do think, though, that you should prepare yourself for a lengthy and intrusive experience. They’ll almost definitely let you in eventually, it just might take a little while. Take it all with a grain of salt and accept the fact that it’s just the way things work in Israel…

  35. staci July 5, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    hello! firstly,i like your website,it’s great :)

    so,i’m european woman and this summer i’m going to israel. i am very afraid of this security checks and stuff.everybody says it’s terrible.

    i would like you to ask something,because i really don’t know what to do, if they ask me if i’m jewish. i have some jewish roots from my maternal grandmoter an some from my father(his granddad was jew).others were christians .i have no religion.i don’t know much about any,because my parents are atheists. i wasn’t baptised,or had bat mitzvah-nothing.don’t even celebrate any holidays

    so,if they ask me if i’m jewish,i think that i can’t say ‘yes’. should i say ‘no’,or tell them that i have som jewish roots or ancestors,whatever? will they ask me then about their names or surnames?? oh,yeah and can you tell me if the staff in airport are nice and polite,or are they rude?

    • Aaron July 8, 2014 at 4:25 am #

      Hi Staci,

      Thanks for stopping by! I think Judaism is technically carried on the mother’s side (I was told the reasoning for this was because it’s possible you wouldn’t know who the biological father was), but since neither of your direct parents was Jewish I don’t think you should say anything about your Jewish ancestry unless they specifically ask you if you have any Jewish relatives, which I think would be doubtful if you tell them that you are not Jewish (which sounds like the truth).

      That said, I’m kinda in the same boat as you. My parents both grew up Jewish but they’re primarily atheist now and I wasn’t raised Jewish. We just practiced the cultural aspects (so, Chanukah and Passover). That was Jewish enough to get me on a Birthright trip (and hey, who wouldn’t want a free trip to Israel). I never had a bar mitvah either. But it sounds like I have a bigger background in Judaism than you do.

      They never asked about any of my relatives, just if I had any family in Israel. That was it. And everyone was very polite throughout the whole process, which is more than I can say for some of the border guards at the King Hussein Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan…

      Don’t sweat the security checks. They’re obnoxious but you’ll get used to them. You literally walk through a metal detector whenever you enter a public place…a mall, a bus station, etc. And the airport? Well, just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell!

  36. Patty August 13, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    I have never traveled abroad and therefor have NO EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER to give to my daughter and her fiancé, who are traveling to Israel Aug 26. I’m so nervous about her traveling there right now. I know there has been a cease fire in place now for over 3 days but I’m still uneasy.

    Let me begin by stating they are visiting their Palestinian friend who lives in Jerusalem. Really i’m so uneducated about things in that area that I didn’t know Palestinians could live in Israel. Can they??? Are my kids giving me correct info? And from reading some of the comments to your blog and other internet articles; you’re suspect if you have any ties (friends) that are Palestinian. SO i’m confused. I just want the kids to know what to expect and know what to say to security so that their entrance into Israel will go as smoothly as possible.

    Car rentals; my daughter is 20 and her fiancé is 21. They want to rent a car. I’ve read in some places you have to be 24 and others 21 is acceptable but they may have to pay a little more. Are you savvy to renting cars in Israel? Since her fiancé is 21 the reservation will be in his name. They were informed that the car rental companies do not accept bank visa/debit cards. We had to add him as a cardholder under our amex account so they would have a major credit card to reserve the car. Now we’re ready to make the reservation. Do you think its best to rent the car online before they leave? or should they do it at the airport?

    Money; my daughter has her bank visa card. We put money on that for her. They were going to withdrawal a little bit of money from it and convert it to the Israel’s currency when they need it for gas, food, etc… What would you recommend for them to do with their spending money. What are the international fee’s when using your atm card?

    I think thats all the questions I have right now.

    Thank you.

    • Aaron August 15, 2014 at 4:00 am #

      Hi Patty,

      Yes, some Palestinians do indeed live in Israel, as do other ethnic groups as well. However, it is also quite possible that your daughter’s friend lives in East Jerusalem, which is technically Palestinian Territory, though Israel does not treat it this way. I don’t think I’ll ever forget wandering out of the side of the Old City that opened to East Jerusalem, when a very friendly gentlemen welcomed me to “Occupied Palestine.” It’s probably best for your kids to tell immigration and security officials that they’re simply visiting a friend in Jerusalem, without specifying that they are Palestinian. I too was advised not to mention any time spent in the West Bank, though I’m pretty sure the fact that I also went to Egypt and Jordan is what did me in.

      Yes, basically anywhere in the world will require a credit card in order to rent a car, as they generally put a hold on your card until your return the car. I don’t suppose it really matters that much if you rent the car online or at the airport, though things may go faster if you rent online ahead of time. It might be cheaper as well, or it might not be. Do be advised that Amex may charge you an international transaction fee of up to 3% of the transaction. Some cards waive international transaction fees, but most don’t. Also, be sure to alert your bank that the kids will be traveling so the card doesn’t get flagged for fraudulent activity. Same with the debit card.

      Israel is a very easy country to navigate by credit/debit card, though, again, you’ll likely face international transaction fees. They vary by bank. Are these U.S.-based cards? The best means of obtaining cash is to just withdraw Israeli Shekels from an ATM, though, again, you may see high fees when making withdrawals. The issuing bank will tell you what the fees for ATM withdrawals abroad will be. I know with Bank of America it used to cost me $5 every time I used an ATM outside of the U.S., which is why I switched to a bank that charges no ATM fees whatsoever (Charles Schwab Bank).

      Hope this helps!

  37. Laszlo August 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Hi Aaron,
    I have read through your post and all subsequent comments with fascination, and with increasing fear. My wife and I will travel from Hong Kong (we are Hungarians but have lived here for 17 years) to Jordan for three weeks at the end of the year and originally thought we would spend 4-5 days in Israel. We planned to cross from Aqaba to Eilat, take a bus to Jerusalem, enjoy the city and then fly back to Amman to catch our return flight to Hong Kong. Reading all these experiences here we might change plans. In the past two years we have travelled, amongst others, to several muslim countries and territories (Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey), own and frequently visit a beachside holiday home in Malaysia, have been to North Korea, Myanmar, Vietnam and all other SE Asian countries several times, and in October we will be visiting Morocco, the UAE and Oman. In short, on paper we might be considered the worst possible enemy of Israel and be put immediately in a danger class so high that its barcode hasn’t even been invented.
    Needless to say, the last thing we need is a lengthy and intrusive investigation trying to enter or leave Israel. It’s a shame, because we would love to experience the country. Our son spent there two weeks in 2012 and immensely enjoyed it … What do you think?

    • Aaron August 21, 2014 at 12:38 am #

      Hi Laszlo,

      You might want to reverse the order of your itinerary in Israel. Fly from Amman to Tel Aviv and then cross back to Jordan by land. Or cross to Jordan by land in both directions, as it’s really quite close. You’ll definitely encounter the most intense security scrutiny when flying out of Israel rather flying into it. Do note that if you decide to do both directions by land, I would suggest entering via Aqaba and leaving either that way or via the King Hussein Bridge. I would not suggest trying to enter Israel via the King Hussein bridge as they are particularly strict at that checkpoint, as it’s the one that enters the West Bank. I think you’ll face less scrutiny with either of these scenarios.

      I would hardly say you’d be considered the “worst enemy of Israel” based on the countries you listed. You could be from one of those countries…that would make your experience entering the country much more difficult. Or you could have traveled to Iran… But no doubt you’ll face a harder time entering Israel via any of the aforementioned ways thanks to the places you’ve been. Just mentally prepare yourselves for a lengthy and potentially intrusive process and be patient. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Israel refusing entry to anyone based on where they’ve traveled, so I’m sure they’ll eventually let you in. It just might take longer than a standard immigration process.

      I don’t think a fear of what you may face should stop you from visiting Israel, though, as there are some truly fantastic sites to be seen in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Religious or not, it’s cool to see all those religious sites you’ve heard about your whole life… Not to mention that you might overlap with some religious holidays, which could make for a very cool experience (that said, I hated Christmas Eve in Bethlehem….more on that here).

      Hope this helps!

  38. Joze August 22, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Hi , I will be visiting Israel/Palestine in November, I’m worried though because of all this security. I am of Spanish descent so I don’t think that’s a problem. I will be visiting Istanbul for 3 days beforehand mostly for religious reasons(Orthodox Christian), such as Hagia Sophia etc. then I am planning to fly into Tel Aviv, will it be hard to enter? I’m staying in Israel for a month. Travelling around religious sites and also want to visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron which I know are in Palestinian Territories, which also have important religious sites as a Christian. I am wondering if when I leave, if I can leave from Amman? Would you say I should take Aqaba or KH crossing? I don’t want to experience so many problems. I am Canadian by the way and 18 travelling alone for first time without family, which like you said before is suspicious to them although I’m here for religious tourism though I’d like to visit tel aviv and Haifa too. Any advice would be great. Thanks.

    • Aaron August 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      I doubt you’ll have any issues. And yes, flying out of Amman would certainly be easier for you than flying out of Tel Aviv, as they will likely ask on departure if you visited the West Bank, which it sounds like you will. If you’ll already be in the West Bank, it might make more sense to take the KH bridge. That said, when I visited, you needed a pre-arranged visa to cross via the KH Bridge but you did NOT need a visa to cross via the Aqaba crossing, so that’s something to consider. Also, going via Aqaba you should definitely stop by Petra. It’s one of the real highlights of the region.

      Just be honest with the immigration people that you’re going to see the Christian sites. There are many Christians who go for religious tourism so I doubt it’s anything that would raise any red flags. And enjoy your time there. I found Hebron to be particularly interesting (and troubling) as it almost feels like a prison for the Palestinians who live there…

      Hafia is also wonderful and the Baha’i Gardens are really stunning!

      Enjoy!

  39. Brett October 15, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    I have more Israeli stamps in my passport than anything else (apart from US entry stamps). I also have the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia… the only two Muslim countries I have traveled to.

    LET ME TELL YOU… I ALWAYS get screened and get a 5 or a 6. It takes forever, and I typically fly by myself because I am in Israel to do business with a government foundation. After my first experience I have had the foundation write me a letter for the airport security and guess what… IT NEVER MATTERS. I just expect to get the entire gamut of intense security. In the end, however, I don’t mind. I know what they face and how fearful life is in Israel on a daily basis. I in fact leave for Israel tomorrow, and on the way back have a layover in Germany for only 55 minutes… now I know how early to arrive at Ben Gurion .I must say though, on the way back from a long trip throughout Asia I was interrogated much longer and more intensely in the US than I ever was in Israel… just hoping that does not change tomorrow!

    • Aaron October 22, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

      I totally understand why Israel needs to secure their airport the way that they do, but I do think that things could be done a bit differently so it’s not such a negative experience for travelers. I don’t look forward to flying through TLV again and I bet most of the people who have commented here feel the same way.

      As for U.S. Immigration, they almost didn’t let me return home from a road trip to Toronto because they thought I had “mutilated” my Thai visa (it was about 8 years old at that point and peeling up in this weird pattern of “x’s”), so I feel your pain…

  40. Irina October 21, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    I like to travel alone, but it seems that in Ben Gurion airport it is a some kind of a curse. I’ve been there thrice in the last year and every time they tream me differently. At least a year ago they didnt have that famous automatic luggage check system so I understand why they checked my suitcase manually. But why do this again now when that automatic system is being advertised on the airport screens and I am standing as an idiot while they are going through my packed underwear and clothes with the sticks. I am ok with it if they’d do the same to everyone, but from the huge crowd me and 2 other women were the only ones to be requested to open suitcases and show insides. And then I was taken to check-in to make sure the suitcase goes as it is, and i dont add there anything and i was followed by security, as if i were a prisoner, only one in the whole airport. I have russian passport, dress very casually, have not been to muslim countries, and work in IT. What is it in me that special to be checked again and again, I wonder.

    • Aaron October 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      I’ve heard time and again that solo travelers are particularly suspicious to the Israeli authorities. That was my situation and seemingly the situation of countless others who have shared their stories here, so that’s probably why you get singled out so much.

      That’s really sucky that they still randomly go through people’s luggage in public like they used to! How embarrassing is that to be singled out like that? T

      Thanks for sharing your story. Hopefully future trips to the region will be better for you!

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  1. STRIPPED: LEAVING ISRAEL (a love story) | TOKIDOKI - January 5, 2014

    […] of the yellow barcode stamp that they stuck to the back of my passport, but according to this story http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2013/01/leaving-tel-aviv-israel-airport-security-ben-gurion/, if the number begins with “1,” you are no threat. If it begins with “6,” […]

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