We stayed one night at the Amman Airport Hotel and left the next morning by bus for Israel driving through downtown Amman just in order that we get a glimpse of the capital since the previous day we were on the outskirts of Amman while visiting Madaba and Mount Nebo. We had wanted to visit Petra – which is not part of the itinerary of this tour but we were willing to pay the extra amount involved just so that we could see it given that we were within three hours of Petra while in Amman. Unfortunately there were logistical issues in doing so and therefore it will have to wait for another day.
The bus drove us to within a few yards of the Israeli border with Jordan. We were cautioned not to take any pictures at the border.
The much vaunted Israeli security was in effect as we arrived at the border. While we sat in the bus, Israeli security used instruments to scan the bus for any threats – presumably bombs – checking out the underneath of the bus as well as the wheels, etc. There were armed security personnel everywhere carrying AK47s’ or equivalent semi-automatics.
We then disembarked from the bus which brought us from Amman and literally walked about 50 yards to Israeli immigration with our bags in tow. The bags went through the usual scanning process that one finds at any airport. Immigration questioned most passengers as to why they were visiting Israel and where they were planning to go during the visit, etc. As part of a group I assume the questioning was less than would have been the case if one arrived independently.
A few passengers had to open their suitcases for further inspection – not sure for the reason though one passenger said he had some food that was in the form of a powder which attracted attention. One passenger – the Jacobite achen who I mentioned earlier was part of the group – was taken in for questioning and there was some delay before they allowed him to enter. Apparently, he had visited Syria eight times in the past several years and that aroused suspicion. He explained that the visits were to see the Patriarch etc. Our Achen who headed the group knows some of the immigration officials as a result of his numerous visits to Israel and he intervened on behalf of the other Achen which may have helped get him cleared.
Since I have a pacemaker and cannot pass through conventional security, I had to have a personal search conducted – as occurs at just about every airport. It was certainly the most thorough search that I have experienced. I was taken into a separate room for the search. Before we entered, I was asked if I was carrying a gun or anything resembling a gun! I was also asked for the card that I always carry in my wallet that is proof of the pacemaker I have implanted with my name and other information about the pacemaker. An official compared the card with my passport to verify the name, etc. This is only the second time I have been asked for the card – which is verification that I do have a pacemaker – in all of my travels; the first occasion was in Paris several years ago.
The actual search was the most thorough I have experienced – it took about 10 minutes. I was asked to remove my shoes, watch and belt and empty out my pockets completely. The belt and shoes were given special scrutiny. Then began a physical search not unlike what happens at a US airport but more detailed and thorough. Literally every part of my body was searched short of the cavities! They used the wand that one finds at airports – for those who trigger a response as the pass through normal security barriers – on the lower part of my body below the waist away from the pacemaker which could potentially react to the magnetic impulses from the wand. The wand was moved right to the area of my groin. The metal screws that I have in my left knee triggered the wand and this caused some concern. I explained that I had surgery over 20 years ago and this required the insertion of the screws. I had to raise my pants to show them the long scars left after the surgery.
Once one clears security, the next hurdle is immigration where one is questioned like happens at most airports as to the purpose of the visit, etc. The questioning I went through by immigration was somewhat cursory. Seeing my US passport I was asked if I lived in America and that itself appeared to allay the concerns of the official. Like I said being part of a group probably makes a difference. I think the questioning as well as scrutiny would be more intense if one were traveling independently.
I would describe the attitude of the officials as all business – not friendly but not rude either. It was certainly a striking contrast to our entry into Jordan at the airport, where we each surrendered our passport to a Jordanian official following Achen’s instructions – not sure what the exact role of this guy was but we then waited with Achen for about 20 minutes and we were handed our passports back duly stamped! We did not meet any immigration official individually and none of us were asked any questions by immigration or customs – we did not have any personal interaction with a single official!
A total contrast in procedures at the border of two neighboring countries ……….. admittedly facing very different security concerns.
Incidentally, talking about Israeli border security, we were delayed for almost two hours when we were leaving Israel to enter Egypt. Apparently, the list consisting of group members that Israeli immigration had at the Israel/Egypt border showed a discrepancy in the passport number with one of the member’s actual passport. This lady – who I discovered is actually related to me – was detained by Israeli immigration and not allowed to leave. Everyone else – including her husband – were allowed to leave. It took almost two hours for the Achens to work with the Israeli authorities before things were resolved. This surprised me because allowing people into a country is often subject to strict scrutiny but most countries would be unconcerned with whether a foreign citizen leaves a country. The only logical explanation I could think of for this concern on the part of Israel was to make sure that the person who entered the country is, in fact, the one leaving as opposed to a substitute – leaving the original entrant still in Israel and potentially being a security threat or some sort. Just speculation on my part ……… but it did result in the group having to wait for almost two hours while matters were sorted out.