Finally made it to Israel after close to 11 hours on a plane. The process of getting here was an experience itself.
Do a quick Google search on traveling to Israel and you get several travelers’ accounts of Israel’s (in) famous strict entry procedures. The stories were enough to make you wonder if it was worth all the stress spending all that money on a plane ticket only to be told that you couldn’t enter the country as you seemed like someone who would be a security threat.
I took confidence from our being a tour group as all the blogs I read including two from Filipinas were all from independent travelers. Perhaps, in the eyes of security, tour groups only make noise and crowd sights.
We were given a briefing by reps (2 Filipino guys from the local counterpart and an Israeli woman from the Tel-Aviv agency) a week before departure and much of it centered on the interview process– what we were to answer (on a holiday), how to answer (short and looking at the office straight in the eye) and information to remember (hotel names, the group leader’s name, etc.) We were also told to bring the welcome kit (plastic vanity bag, notebook, and key chain). Little did we imagine that this lot would be physical proof of us being part of va real tour group.
The briefing only served to heighten my anxiety over the entire entry proceedings. Perhaps I should have asked the agency of there was some kind of refund in case of denied entry.
At the El Al counters in the HK airport, we were pointed to different rows each with a low white table manned by Israeli staff in white uniforms. I was pointed by the supervisor-acting guy to one occupied by a young pretty woman whom he joined.
It started pleasantly enough with lady introducing herself and the supervisor-looking guy who greeted me in Filipino which caught me off-guard.
The questioning started– what was my purpose (holiday), have I been to the Middle East (never). The guy excused both of them, stepped aside and started talking to her in Hebrew. Either she was a trainee being coached (which seemed it) or there was something wrong with me. They returned a few minutes later and the guy started the questions—could I point out who the tour leader was, would I have any plans of leaving the group and going on my own, so I know anyone in Israel, what was the itinerary. Next came the questions regarding my luggage—who packed it, when and where, and if I received anything from anyone to be brought to Israel. I answered as straight forward as I could while trying to remain calm as possible and all the whole looking at my inquisitor straight on the eye. He then asked to see the kit we received from the agency, took-out the notebook and rifled through the pages. Thank God, I hadn’t written on it.
Finally, he put a sticker on my passport with the instructions not to remove it. I was then told to proceed to the actual check-in counter. The proceedings took about 10 minutes.
I have never ever received a boarding pass with much joy as this one for my flight.
Having read other traveler’s nightmares at the immigrations at Ben Gurion, I was shocked when the female officer simply asked me what was my purpose (holiday with a tour group), how many were in the group (16) and how long where we staying (8 days). She then handed me back my passport with a small electronic sheet which was the entry stamp. As easy as that! It took less than 5 minutes and I was in Israel!
Perhaps the interrogation at the HK airport was THE interrogation and we had already proven our merit. Perhaps, our being in a tour group facilitated or entry. Whatever it was, I was glad to be waiting for my luggage rather than convincing the officer all I want to do in Israel is to holiday.