A little more than a few hundred meters of fences and checkpoints mark out the border between Jordan and Israel where the two countries meet at their southern most point. It took me about 10 to 15 minutes to cross this border when entering Jordan last week. On the way back into Israel however it took about two hours. Why? I was told it was because they had ‘serious security concerns’. Never before has the word ‘serious’ been subjected to such a loose definition.
The conversation started off a little tedious. “How long have you been in Jordan for? Who did you visit? Are you carrying any weapons”? These are the sort of questions that always strike me as slightly pointless but are a regular feature of border crossings. In a slightly overly accommodating way I responded to a complete stranger with complete itinerary of my holiday and that no, I was not carrying any weapons.
Very quickly however the conversation started to veer from the ordinary ‘airport style questioning’ to the downright bizarre. “What’s on your t-shirt?“. I was wearing my Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun t-shirt (a friend’s band). I explained this to her and she answered, “Are they successful…your mates band?”. She almost spat the word mate. I paused wondering whether she really wanted to hear how successful or not my friend’s band were. As she didn’t break the silence I responded, “Well yes, just recently it has been great, they’ve been signed to a record label I really like and they have just put out an album which has been met with critical acclaim”.
Now taking swabs from every item of clothing in my bag checking for the explosives and drugs I had assured her I didn’t have she says, “give me an example”. I clarify, “you mean, you want an example of the ‘critical acclaim’ my friend’s ban has had?”. She nods. Again, an awkward couple of seconds silence before I say, “Well, Kerrang magazine gave it KKKK (out of 5) while the site Punktastic has described it ‘ a definite contender for album of the year’”. She stares at me blankly. “What’s that a picture of?” she says pointing at the album art from their first record ‘atlases’ that is printed on my t-shirt. “Why would did he chose that picture?”. I answered as honestly as I could, “I don’t really know, I would just be guessing if I answered”. Deadpan again she says, “well guess”. Feeling slightly foolish I again sought clarity, “you want me to guess why a mate of mine that I went to school with chose this picture for his first album?”. Nod. “Really?”. Two nods. I start to speculate and she continued to stare blankly at me.
This level of conversation lasts for one and half hours. It stretched from the finest detail that I can recall about the Live Music Act (part of my former work), my love life as a 16 year old through to petty details like why my bag had ‘mountain equipment’ written on it when it didn’t look very suitable for mountains. I answered question after question trying to not laugh at the stupidity of it all.
After an hour and half of solid questioning she tells me to stop slouching. I had maybe stared to drift off. She handed back my passport and tells me that I can go now. I smile and walk past a picture of Bill Clinton on the wall – I was sure by this point his eyes followed me across the room.
Walking away past a customs official who didn’t bother to look up from his newspaper I thought to myself that there are two undeniable facts about Israel. One is that it faces an extreme external security threat that means it needs to have secure borders. Secondly is that it’s response to this security threat is often disproportionate. What I experienced coming through the border is a slightly more comic illustration of this disproportionately.