Crossing Israel Border with Iraq and Syria Visas
We were well warned that crossing the border from Jordan to Israel with Iraqi and Syrian visas in our passports may prove to be a obstacle of mountainous proportions. Travelvice Craigy was stuck in Israeli immigration limbo for 12 hours as he tried to cross from Jordan with a Syrian visa two weeks before out attempt.
The state of Israel and the rest of the Middle East are perpetually at odds, and travelers who skirt both sides of the line are gazed upon with suspicion by all immigration officials.We were looking forward to a mountain of a border crossing as we set our sights on Israel as the way to get to Egypt.
Obtaining the visa to Syria at the border was contingent upon our promise that we would not go to Israel, have never been to Israel, and would never think of entering that heathen land.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Israel- May, 2009
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Promises, like plans, are easy to break in the vagabond world. Promises to immigration stooges are even easier to toss to the wind.
Chaya and I were going through Israel because we were not willing to drop $120 for a one hour ferry ride from Aqaba in Jordan to Egypt. We figured that we would either ride straight through Israel to Egypt and be in the country for all of a half hour, or we may stay for a couple days – giving us no extra time to make Cairo before our flight departed.
We measured our possibilities at the Aqaba ferry port – none of which seem too good:
1. Be ripped off on a ferry ride
2. Try our chances at the Israeli border
We knew well that if everything did not go smoothly while passing through Israel that we stood a very real chance of not making Cairo in time. We took out chances.
If there is an easy way to do things and a difficult way, Chaya and I will invariably always choose the latter. For what would travel be if not a challenge? How could we justify our journey as a journey if we were not pushed to the ends of our endurance and forced to map our our survival on the strength of wit and wisdom.
Remember here that the root word of travel is travail:
“If traveling is easy, you are not doing it right,” some wise traveler once wrote.
The fun of travel is found in The Challenge. Money and adventure are inversely proportional. I would much rather read of vagabond journeys than tourists spending money to conveniently get whatever they want like a bunch of mobile spoiled brats. There is a low road and a high road to everything – always choose the highest route you can find and your story will be worth telling.
We were going through Israel.
After having a difficult time convincing the guards at the exit to the ferry port that the reason why we did not have Egyptian visas in our passports was because we did not go to Egypt, we escaped into the port’s parking lot. As if deemed by providence, a taxi driver drove up to us.
“Israel? Israel?” he chanted.
“Yeah, how much?”
“We will give you 10.”
“No, no, no Israel is far away [blah, blah, taxi man fodder talk] I need more money, it costs 10 dinar to go to Aqaba.”
“It costs 2 dinar to go to Aqaba,” I countered and then made to walked away.
“Sir! sir! 15 dinar,” the taxi man called after us.
We continued walking up to the highway, restating the price we were willing to pay.
“Ok, ok, come, come!” the taxi man yelled.
We did not trust this driver, but had little other option – we wanted to get to Israel quick and knew that any taxi that we flagged down on the highway would give us the same static.
A police car pulled over passed the taxi cab and bleeped its siren. The taxi man pretended to flip out in order to pressure us into his cab.
“Police, police, get in fast, we have to goooooo!”
It was a ridiculous show, the police were not going to bother us. We began getting into the cab – our options were limited. The driver tried to make us put our bags in the trunk, we refused and forced them into the backseat.
“10 dinar, total price,” we confirmed.
“Yes, yes, 10 dinar, very cheap.”
10 dinar – $12.50 – is more than the going rate to take us the 10 or so kilometers to the Israeli border. The driver was getting a fair deal, and he knew it.
We rode to the border, which took maybe 15 minutes. The driver was weird – he kept touching and squeezing my leg as I sat in the passenger’s seat. I had to keep removing his clawing fingers by way of force. Arab hospitality, I was assuming.
At the border we made to pay the driver his 10 dinar.
Shit, we only had a 20.
I gave it to the driver. He tried to keep all of it, of course.
“Give me my change,” I spoke strongly.
He looked at me like a dummy.
“Give me my change,” I reasserted, “we will not get out until you give me my change.”
I was serious.
The taxi man removed a wad of money from his pocket and fumbled through it for a 5 dinar bill.
“No, give me a ten, the blue one,” I demanded.
He gave me a five.
“Be honest,” I countered, refusing to take the offered compromise, “you made a deal, be honest. Give me the blue one!”
He fumbled about in his wad of money and I reached over to snatch a blue ten dinar bill. The taxi man relented, and we got out of the cab.
“I really did not think we were going to get that out of him,” I laughed with Chaya as we walked away celebrating our mini victory.
On to Israel
Crossing out of Jordan was standard: we sat down in a room, threw a 20 dinar bill upon the desk of an official looking fellow to cover the exit fee, got stamped out of Jordan, and walked out of the Muslim world bound for the Jewish.
We could only laugh at ourselves and for the fact that we did not know what would come next. We planned on interrogation session on top of interrogation session, as was Travelvice Craigy’s experience. We figured that we would be sitting in border crossing limbo for the rest of the day.
We did not then take into the account the strength of our secret weapon: Chaya’s full name is Hannah Chaya Kates-Goldman.
She could not have a name that was any more Jewish. On top of this, she has a Jew face and family in Israel. We were properly set up to be knocked down by a great big anticlimax.
We nervously walked up to the initial security inspection. We were met by Israelis in street clothes, and smiling faces. We gave our passports to the first inspector.
“What is your name?” he asked Chaya.
“Hannah Chaya Kates-Goldman,” she replied proudly with an emphasis on the Hebrew pronunciation of her middle name.
The border official, who was probably all of 20 years old then turned his smiling face to me.
I stated my Anglo name with no added emphasis or pride.
“Are you Jewish,” he asked us.
“She is, I’m not,” I responded, and quickly added, “and our baby is Jewish, too.” I pointed to Chaya’s belly to give effect to my afterthought.
We were then politely passed along to have our bags checked. I reached into my pockets to empty them before going through the metal detector.
I found the Hezboallah lighter that was meant to be our saving grace in Syria. I did not think it would have the same effect in Israel.
Shit. I could picture myself sitting in an Israel immigration room with some big gooney guy in dark sunglasses looming over me while fidgeting with that stupid lighter. I imagined him happenstancially pushing the button which triggers the flashlight and projecting the well recognized face of the leader of Hezboallah upon the wall in front of us.
“Now, how do you explain this,” I imagined him asking as we sat before the brightly lit up face of Hassan Nasrallah as if we were watching an Al-Queda training video.
“Well,” I thought of myself stammering, “this French guy in Aleppo though that it would be a good idea for me to carry a piece of Hezboallah paraphernalia to protect myself from . . .”
I did not imagine this going over very well.
As inconspicuously as I could, I removed the lighter from my pocket and placed it in the plastic basket on the outside of the metal detector. I hoped against hope that the woman security official would not find it suspicious in any way.
She just smiled at me a big smile. She was sort of pretty.
I picked up the lighter from the basket on the other side of the metal detector and nonchalantly tossed it into the trash can as I walked through the security check.
We were greeted by more smiles and pretty young Israeli women and handsome boys with curly black hair and big machine guns on the other side of the security check. Everybody smiled at us. We walked up to the immigration check and handed over our passports. Another hot Israeli women took our travel documents and fumbled through their pages. I hoped for a moment that the Arab stamps could be diluted in the sea of other visas and entry stamps that bespeckle both my own and Chaya’s sandwich sized, extra page loaded passports.
But my hopes quickly disintegrated when she held up Chaya’s passport in front of us with the big Iraqi stamp in plain view.
“Where is this from?” the immigration inspector asked with a smile.
“Iraq,” we admitted.
“What does it say?”
The stamp had Arabic writing all over it.
“We don’t know,” we replied in unison.
This was not a bad answer, as nobody at the immigration check seemed to have been able to read Arabic.
“Ok, have a seat,” the attractive young Israel women told us.
Chaya was then called into the room for questioning, but was finished in a matter of moments.
“What did she ask you?” I dug into her in an attempt to excavate any sort of heads up I could as guidance. I knew that I was to be called in next, and I did not have a Jewish name or face to keep me afloat.
“Oh, they just asked what I did in Iraq and Syria, if I had family in Israel, and if I could speak Hebrew.”
It did not seem to be too harsh of an interrogation. I was called next.
I approached my interrogator. She was another attractive young Israeli woman. She spoke almost apologetically as she told me that she had to ask me some questions that were printed on a list. She asked her questions, I answered them.
The questions were standard:
How long were you in Iraq? How long in Syria? What did you do there? Where did you stay? Where are you going in Israel? How long will you be here?
I answered the questions and my interrogator dismissed me with a thank you.
I sat down on a bench next to Chaya and anticipated a long wait. An entire flock of flies buzzed about our heads and landed all over our bodies.
“There are a lot of flies here,” I comment to Chaya as I tried to shoo them away.
“Yeah, they are only on us though, they are not landing on the Israelis.”
She was right. I looked over at the young and clean Israeli soldiers in crisp khaki street clothes – they had no flies on them – I looked at the tightly clad young Israeli women – they had no flies on them either.
But Chaya and I were covered in the little crap eaters. We must have smelled like a couple of road dogs who just rolled in a big pile of shit. The flies of Israel were certainly welcoming us into their country.
Within moments, though, the people would follow suit and do the same.
Before we knew it, an immigration girl rushed up to us with both of our passports in hand.
“Welcome to Israel.”
The entire border crossing took around a half hour.
The bodies of women shown in public. I has been a long time since I have experienced this.
We walked passed a few more handsome Israeli boys with large machine guns and a few more hot Israeli women.
It was good to see the bodies of women in public again. My time in the Middle East had dampered my notion of what they looked like.
“It is amazing to me how much more attractive people can get just from crossing a border,” Chaya commented.
Chaya was with her people now.
Traveler walking into Israel.
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